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WILLIAM  HAZLITT 

»»  < 
anfc  Critic 


SELECTIONS    FROM    HIS    WRITINGS 


SGJSftfj  a  ilHemotr,  Biographical  anto  Critical, 


BY 

ALEXANDER  IRELAND 

AUTHOR  OF  "  MEMOIR  AND  RECOLLECTIONS  OF  RALPH  WALDO  EMERSON, 
"THE  BOOK-LOVER'S  ENCHIRIDION,"  ETC.  ETC. 


LONDON  AND  NEW  YORK 
FREDERICK    WARNE    AND    CO. 


Ik 


579562 


PREFACE. 


IN  the  following  Selections  from  the  writings  of  William 
Hazlitt,  it  has  been  my  aim  to  present  to  the  reader  what  is 
most  characteristic  of  him  as  a  Critic  of  Literature,  and  an 
Essayist  on  Life,  Manners,  and  Art.  The  selection  has  been 
made  with  much  care  and  deliberation,  and  after  a  life-long 
acquaintance  with  his  works,  which  extend  over  a  period  of 
twenty-seven  years  (1805  to  1830),  and  number  about  thirty- 
five  volumes. 

The  specimens  selected  include  his  remarks  on,  and  gene- 
ral estimates  of  our  greatest  Poets,  Dramatists,  Novelists, 
and  Essayists.  Following  these  are  given  several  of  his  best 
Essays  on  Men,  Society,  and  Books,  almost  without  abridgment, 
and  from  others  the  most  striking  pages.  Among  these  will 
be  found  occasional  passages  illustrative  of  his  individual  ex- 
periences, hopes,  aspirations,  and  disappointments,  which  will 
help  the  reader  to  understand  his  peculiar  character.  Among 
the  essays  given  entire  are,  "My  First  Acquaintance  with 
Poets,"  "On  Persons  one  would  wish  to  have  seen,"  "On 
Living  to  Oneself,"  "  On  Going  a  Journey,"  and  "  On  the  Fear 
of  Death."  The  essays  "A  Farewell  to  Essay- writing "  and 
"  The  Sick-chamber  "  will  be  read  with  pathetic  interest.  The 
latter  was  written  only  a  few  weeks  before  his  death,  and  has 
been  unaccountably  omitted  from  the  collected  edition  of  his 
principal  writings.  His  carefully-drawn  and  searching  estimate 
of  Burke,  as  well  as  of  his  great  antagonist,  Fox,  are  reprinted 
without  abridgment.  Almost  the  whole  of  the  admirable  In- 


vi  PREFACE. 

troduction  to  the  study  of  the  Elizabethan  Literature  is  given, 
in  which  he  traces,  with  singular  power,  the  causes  which  led 
to  the  remarkable  awakening  of  genius  and  thought  at  that 
epoch  of  our  history. 

Of  his  criticisms  on  Painters  and  Painting  a  sufficient 
number  of  specimens  are  given  to  enable  readers  on  this 
subject  to  form  some  idea  of  the  treasures  of  subtle  thought 
and  insight  awaiting  them  in  the  numerous  papers  which  he 
contributed  to  this  department  of  the  Fine  Arts.  Never,  up  to 
his  time,  had  there  been  given  to  the  world  such  appreciative 
criticism  of  the  works  of  the  great  painters,  or  such  masterly 
estimates  of  their  genius.  His  "Character  of  Hamlet"  is 
given  unabridged,  being  one  of  his  most  characteristic  pro- 
ductions. Those  who  have  studied  Hazlitt,  as  revealed  in 
his  books,  must  come  to  the  conclusion  that  in  this  ingenious 
and  original  paper,  in  which  he  theorizes  on  the  character 
of  Hamlet,  he  has  drawn  largely  from  within,  and  that  his 
imaginary  Dane  is  probably  a  reproduction  of  his  own  thoughts 
and  feelings.  As  specimens  of  the  remarkable  versatility  of 
his  genius  I  have  given  his  essays  entitled  "  The  Fight "  and 
"  On  the  Conduct  of  Life ;  or,  Advice  to  a  School-Boy "  (his 
son).  The  latter  is  written  with  earnest  feeling,  and  expressed 
in  a  simple  and  unadorned  style.  Any  reader  of  the  former, 
not  knowing  it  to  be  Hazlitt's,  would  suppose  it  to  have  been 
penned  by  a  skilful  professional  reporter  of  pugilistic  combats. 
I  have  also  given  some  extracts  from  his  "  Life  of  Napoleon  " 
— a  remarkable  but  unequal  work — which  show  his  philo- 
sophic insight  into  the  causes  of  the  French  Revolution,  as 
well  as  his  powers  of  vivid  description. 

To  those  who  may  wish  to  go  farther  afield  among  the  plea- 
sant intellectual  pasturages  afforded  by  Hazlitt's  voluminous 
writings,  I  may  recommend  the  handy  edition  of  his  principal 
works  in  seven  volumes  (the  "Life  of  Napoleon"  is  not  included), 
published  by  Messrs.  Bell  &  Sons,  and  a  volume  issued  by 
Messrs.  Reeves  &  Turner,  containing  exclusively  his  writings 
on  the  Fine  Arts.  This  volume  includes  his  excellent  article  on 


PREFACE,  vii 

The  Fine  Arts  contributed  to  the  Encylopa&dia  Britannica  in 
1824.  Both  of  these  collections  are  edited  by  Mr.  W.  C. 
Hazlitt.  The  seven  volumes  of  reprints  of  his  principal 
writings,  just  referred  to,  comprise  seventeen  of  the  thirty- 
five  volumes  which  bear  his  name. 

The  character  of  Hazlitt  is  one  of  deep  interest,  and 
deserving  of  careful  study.  With  all  his  faults,  he  was  a  man 
to  be  loved  and  honoured.  He  was  wayward,  perverse,  wilful, 
at  times  unreasonable  and  splenetic — often  in  consequence  of  a 
sense  of  his  own  intellectual  superiority,  and  an  impatience  of 
mediocre  and  inferior  minds.  But  against  these  failings  and 
infirmities  of  temper — which  belonged  to  the  accidents  of 
his  nature,  not  to  its  essence — must  be  set  his  tenderness  of 
heart,  his  unselfishness,  his  sympathy  with  the  suffering  and 
oppressed,  his  candour  towards  opponents,  his  rectitude  and 
honesty  of  mind  and  purpose.  He  was  an  ardent  lover  of 
truth  and  beauty,  if  ever  one  existed,  and  he  never  swerved 
from  his  fealty  to  the  cause  of  liberty  and  human  progress. 
The  highest  eulogium  that  could  be  bestowed  upon  him  is  con- 
tained in  one  brief  sentence  of  his  friend  Talfourd's  : — "  He 
had  as  passionate  a  desire  for  truth,  as  others  have  for  wealth, 
or  power,  or  fame."  He  was,  perhaps,  the  most  hardly  treated 
man  of  genius  of  his  time,  and  when  one  takes  into  account 
the  unmerited  obloquy  to  which  he  was  so  long  and  system- 
atically subjected,  it  is  not  surprising  that  his  sensitive  nature 
was  wounded,  his  temper  soured,  and  his  mind  often  darkened 
by  fits  of  misanthropy  which,  for  a  time,  overclouded  the  char- 
acteristic qualities  of  a  noble,  generous,  and  most  unselfish 
nature.  Herein  lies  the  excuse,  if  not  the  justification,  of  those 
outbursts  of  fierce  invective  which  he  occasionally  launched 
against  his  unscrupulous  traducers. 

In  the  Introductory  Memoir  I  have  endeavoured  to  present 
Hazlitt  in  his  habit  as  he  lived,  and  as  he  was  known  and 
seen  by  his  friends — passing  over  none  of  his  frailties  or 
errors,  and  not  hesitating  to  use  freely  the  recorded  recollec- 
tions of  those  who  were  most  intimate  with  him.  These  I 


viii  PREFACE. 

have  incorporated  in  my  sketch,  in  order  to  add  to  the  reality 
of  the  picture.  The  reader  will  thus  be  able  to  see,  through 
many  different  eyes,  as  it  were,  something  of  his  personality 
and  surroundings.  I  would  particularly  direct  the  attention 
of  my  readers  to  what  was  said  of  him  by  his  earliest,  dearest, 
wisest,  and  most  considerate  friend,  Charles  Lamb  ("  Memoir," 
p.  Ivii.),  whose  beautiful  words  will  live  in  our  literature  as 
one  of  the  truest  and  most  tender  tributes  ever  paid  by  one 
man  of  genius  to  another. 

Should  the  following  selections  from  his  writings  inspire 
in  some  thoughtful  minds  a  desire  to  become  better  acquainted 
with  a  remarkable  writer,  too  little  known  to  the  present 
generation,  I  shall  feel  amply  rewarded  for  my  labour  of  love. 
I  can  promise  such  minds  a  store  of  instruction  and  delightful 
mental  invigoration.  There  is  no  better  reading  to  be  found 
than  is  afforded  by  his  works.  So  happy  a  power  of  inspiring 
enthusiasm  for  genius,  and  of  stimulating  intellectual  sympathy, 
has  been  exhibited  by  very  few  writers  either  of  this  or  the  last 
century.  He  has  the  supreme  art  of  putting  himself  en  rapport 
with  his  reader.  He  communicates  the  interest  he  feels.  In 
his  flowing  and  vigorous  style  he  lays  open  the  often  stubborn 
thought,  as  the  sharp  ploughshare  the  glebe.  The  reader  is 
never  perplexed  by  ideas  imperfectly  grasped,  or  by  thoughts 
which  the  writer  cannot  clearly  express.  What  has  been  well 
said  of  Macaulay  by  Mr.  Cotter  Morison — "  that  his  thought 
is  always  within  his  reach,  and  is  unfolded  with  complete 
mastery  and  ease  to  its  utmost  filament " — is  equally  applicable 
to  Hazlitt. 

ALEXANDER  IRELAND. 

SOUTHPOBT,  June  1889. 


CONTENTS. 


PAG« 

PREFACE v 

CONTENTS ix 

MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT xiii  to  Ixiii 

SELECTIONS  FEOM  HIS  WRITINGS— 

THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE I 

LATER  REMARKS  ON  BURKE 14 

THE  CHARACTER  OF  FOX l8 

TUCKER'S  "LIGHT  OF  NATURE  PURSUED"  ....  27 

THE  LOVE  OF  LIFE 29 

THE  LOVE  OF  THE  COUNTRY -32 

THE  TENDENCY  OF  SECTS 37 

ON  "JOHN  BUNGLE" 40 

THE  CHARACTER  OF  ROUSSEAU 46 

GOOD-NATURE 50 

COUNTRY  PEOPLE 54 

RELIGIOUS  HYPOCRISY    .        . 57 

COMMONPLACE  CRITICS 60 

ACTORS  AND  ACTING 64 

CHARACTERS  OF  SHAKSPEARE'S  PLAYS — "Macbeth"     .          .  66 
„                               „                      „         "  Othello "                -7O 

„                              „                     „         "Hamlet"      .        .  72 

„                              „                     „         "  Romeo  and  Juliet "  76 

"Lear"      '•  .        .  78 

„                              „                     „         "Falsta/"     .        .  82 

THE  ACTING  OF  KEAN 84 

MRS.  SIDDONS 86 

DISSENTERS  AND  DISSENTING  MINISTERS    ....  87 

THE  CHURCH  AND  ITS  CLERGY 9O 

THE  ESTABLISHED  CLERGY 91 

A  LETTER  TO  WILLIAM  GIFFORD 93 

POETRY,  IN  GENERAL) 98 


x  CONTENTS. 

SELECTIONS  FEOM  HIS  WRITINGS  (continued) —  PAGE 

CHAUCER  AND  SPENSER  .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .  IO6 

SHAKSPEAKE  AND  MILTON HO 

MILTON'S  CHARACTER  OP  "SATAN" 118 

DRYDEN  AND  POPE I2O 

WITHER I24 

THOMSON  AND  COWPER 12$ 

SWIFT 129 

SWIFT— RABELAIS — VOLTAIRE 131 

GRAY 133 

GOLDSMITH 134 

BURNS 135 

RYRON 136 

SCOTT 137 

WORDSWORTH 13^ 

WIT  AND  HUMOUR 14° 

ENGLISH  COMEDY I41 

THE   PERIODICAL  ESSAYISTS 143 

MONTAIGNE 144 

STEELE  AND  ADDISON 146 

THE  ENGLISH  NOVELISTS 149 

CERVANTES  AND  LE  SAGE 151 

FIELDING  AND  SMOLLETT 156 

RICHARDSON  AND   STERNE l6l 

SIR  WALTER  SCOTT 165 

LITERATURE  OF  THE  AGE  OF  ELIZABETH — INTRODUCTION  167 

TRANSLATION  OF  THE  BIBLE 174 

THE  CHARACTER  OF  CHRIST 175 

WEBSTER  AND  DECKER l8o 

THE  EARLY  DRAMATISTS— WINTERSLOW  HUTT    .          .          .  l8l 

BACON 183 

SIR  THOMAS  BROWNE 185 

JEREMY  TAYLOR 187 

THE   PAST  AND   FUTURE 189 

CAPACITY  AND   GENIUS — ORIGINALITY 198 

ON  PEOPLE  WITH   ONE  IDEA 2OI 

THE  INDIAN  JUGGLERS   .                               209 

JOHN  CAVANAGH,   THE  FIVES-PLAYER 2l6 

ON  LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF 219 

ON  THOUGHT  AND  ACTION 228 

ON  VULGARITY  AND  AFFECTATION 229 

ON   GOING  A  JOURNEY 232 

ON  COFFEE-HOUSE  POLITICIANS 240 

ON  FAMILIAR  STYLE — LAMB 243 


CONTENTS.  xl 

SELECTIONS  FKOM  HIS  WRITINGS  (continued) —  PAGE 

ON   EFFEMINACY  OF   CHARACTER 246 

WHY  DISTANT   OBJECTS  PLEASE 248 

ON  THE  DISADVANTAGES  OF  INTELLECTUAL  SUPERIORITY  253 

ON  THE  FEAR  OF  DEATH .  257 

THE  FIGHT •        •        •  266 

ON  THE  CONDUCT  OF  LIFE  :  OR,  ADVICE  TO  A  SCHOOLBOY  280 

BURKE'S  STYLE        .........  293 

COLERIDGE'S  STYLE 296 

LEIGH  HUNT'S  STYLE 296 

THE  CONVERSATION  OF  AUTHORS 297 

CHARLES  LAMB'S  EVENINGS 300 

LEIGH  HUNT'S  CONVERSATION 303 

MR.  NORTHCOTE,  THE  PAINTER 304 

CHARACTER  OF  THE  SCHOLAR 305 

APPLICATION  TO  STUDY 306 

THE  SPIRIT  OF  OBLIGATIONS 31 1 

WHETHER  GENIUS  IS  CONSCIOUS  OF  ITS  POWERS      .       -313 

PRIDE 3*5 

ON  READING  OLD  BOOKS 317 

ON  NOVELTY  AND  FAMILIARITY 322 

IDENTITY  OF  AN  AUTHOR  WITH  HIS  BOOKS       .        .        .  327 

"VIVIAN  GREY"  AND  THE  DANDY  SCHOOL.       .       .       .  330 

ON  READING  NEW  BOOKS 334 

ON   CANT  AND  HYPOCRISY 339 

WALTON'S  "COMPLETE  ANGLER" 343 

ON  A  SUN-DIAL 344 

ON  PREJUDICE 345 

ON  DISAGREEABLE  PEOPLE 349 

SENSIBILITY  TO   REAL   EXCELLENCE        .           ....  352 

£MY   FIRST  ACQUAINTANCE  WITH   POETJft        .          .          .          -353 

OF   PERSONS   ONE  WOULD  WISH   TO  HAVE  SEEN  .          .          .  369 

TOLERATION 380 

ON  THE  FEELING  OF  IMMORTALITY  IN  YOUTH     .          .          .381 

A  FAREWELL   TO  ESSAY-WRITING 387 

THE  SICK-CHAMBER 391 

CHARACTERISTICS 397 

COMMONPLACES 397 

THE  WORKS   OF  HOGARTH 402 

ON   THE   PLEASURE   OF   PAINTING 406 

ON   THE  IDEAL 415 

ON  JUDGING  OF  PICTURES 4*7 

EXPRESSION 42C 

THE  DULWICH   GALLERY 421 


xii  CONTENTS. 

SELECTIONS  FROM  HIS  WRITINGS  (continued) —  PAOK 

INTEECOUESE  WITH   PICTURES  AND  BOOKS  ....  422 

APOSTROPHE  TO  BUBLEIGH   HOUSE 424 

OXFOED 426 

COLERIDGE 428- 

COLEEIDGE  AND  GODWIN 433 

SIR  WALTER  SCOTT 435 

f*LORD  BYBQJB. 44! 

CWOEDSWORTH^ 451 

FRANCIS  JEFFREY 457 

WILLIAM  COBBETT 462 

CHARLES  LAMB 472 

LEIGH  HUNT 474 

THE  LOUVRE 476 

ROMAN  CATHOLICISM 479 

CONVERSATIONS  WITH  NORTHCOTE 481 

LIFE  OF  NAPOLEON  BUONAPARTE- 
DEFENCE  OF  NAPOLEON 483 

CAUSES  OF  THE  FRENCH  REVOLUTION        ....  485 

ENGLAND'S  HOSTILITY 493 

BURKE'S  WRITINGS 494 

THE  HORRORS  OF  THE  REVOLUTION 494 

THE  TAKING  OF  THE  BASTILLE 496 

THE  BURNING  OF  MOSCOW    .......  503 


MEMOIR  OF   WILLIAM   HAZLITT, 

BIOGEAPHICAL  AND  CEITICAL. 


THE  father  of  the  subject  of  this  Memoir  was  William  Hazlitt,  of 
Shrone  Hill,  Tipperary,  originally  from  the  county  of  Antrim.  He 
graduated  at  the  University  of  Glasgow,  where  he  was  a  contempo- 
rary of  Adam  Smith.  About  the  year  1761  he  joined  the  English 
Presbyterian  body,  and  became  a  minister  of  that  denomination. 
His  first  appointment  was  at  Wisbeach,  in  Cambridgeshire,  whither 
he  went  in  1764,  at  the  age  of  twenty-seven.  Two  years  later  he 
married  Grace  Loftus,  a  farmer's  daughter,  who  was  twenty  years 
old,  very  handsome,  and  also  simple  and  good.  The  marriage  took 
place  upon  his  leaving  Wisbeach  for  Marshfield,  in  Gloucestershire, 
where,  in  the  following  year,  1767,  his  eldest  son,  John,  was  born. 
A  daughter,  named  Peggy,  followed.  He  then  left  Marshfield  for 
Maidstone,  where  more  children  were  born,  but  none  of  them  sur- 
vived except  the  youngest.  He  was  named  William  after  his  father, 
and  lived  to  make  the  name  illustrious.  He  was  born  in  Mitre 
Lane,  Maidstone,  on  the  loth  of  April  1778.  His  father,  who 
knew  Benjamin  Franklin  and  corresponded  with  Dr.  Priestley, 
left  Maidstone  when  his  youngest  child  was  two  years  old,  to  take 
charge  of  a  congregation  of  Unitarians  at  Bandon,  in  the  county 
of  Cork.  In  that  town  he  was  settled  for  three  years.  His 
sympathy  with  the  Americans  in  their  struggle  for  independence 
led  him  to  exert  himself  in  behalf  of  the  American  prisoners  con- 
fined at  Kinsale,  near  Bandon.  On  the  conclusion  of  the  war,  he 
went  with  his  family  to  America,  reaching  New  York  in  May  1783. 
He  was  fifteen  months  in  Philadelphia,  preaching  occasionally,  and 
delivering  in  the  winter  a  course  of  lectures  on  the  Evidences  of 
Christianity.  He  made  a  short  stay  at  Boston,  where  he  founded 


xiv  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

the  first  Unitarian  Church  there,  and  declined  the  degree  of  D.D. 
In  1786-87  he  returned  to  England,  and  settled  as  a  Unitarian 
minister  at  Wem,  in  Shropshire.  He  was  then  in  his  fiftieth  year. 
His  son  John,  then  about  twenty  years  old,  was  beginning  the 
world  as  a  miniature-painter,  and  in  1788  had  some  of  his  works 
exhibited  at  the  Koyal  Academy. 

William,  who  was  then  a  child  of  eight  or  nine,  was  educated  at 
Wem  under  his  father's  roof,  as  well  as  in  a  neighbouring  school. 
He  was  by  all  accounts  a  docile  pupil.  From  his  earliest  boyhood 
his  father  had  impressed  upon  his  mind  the  great  principles  of 
moral  and  political  truth  and  the  duty  of  asserting  the  rights  of 
his  fellow-creatures.  Some  of  his  letters  written  to  his  father  and 
brother  when  he  was  away  from  home  on  visits,  as  at  Liverpool 
in  1790,  indicate  a  studious,  inquiring  mind,  with  a  religious  tone 
of  thought  in  them.  In  a  letter  written  to  his  father  from  Liver- 
pool when  he  was  barely  twelve  years  of  age,  he  makes  remarks 
which  show  a  lively  and  shrewd  observation  of  character.  "Mrs. 
Barton  asked  us,  as  if  she  were  afraid  we  would  accept  her  invita- 
tion, if  we  would  stay  to  tea  ....  I  had  rather  one  would  tell 
one  to  go  out  of  the  house  than  ask  one  to  stay,  and  at  the  same 
time  be  trembling  all  over  for  fear  one  should  take  a  slice  of  meat 
or  a  dish  of  tea  with  them  ....  I  spent  a  very  agreeable  day  yester- 
day, as  I  read  160  pages  of  Priestley  and  heard  two  good  sermons. 
.  .  .  After  I  had  sealed  up  my  last  letter  to  you,  George  asked  me 
if  I  were  glad  the  Test  Act  was  not  repealed.  I  told  him,  No. 
Then  he  asked  me  why  ;  and  I  told  him  because  I  thought  that  all 
the  people  who  are  inhabitants  of  a  country,  of  whatever  sect  or 
denomination,  should  have  the  same  rights  with  others.  But,  says 
he,  then  they  would  try  to  get  their  religion  established,  or  some- 
thing to  that  purpose.  Well,  what  if  it  should  be  so  ?  " 

Here  is  revealed  the  early  dawning  of  his  hatred  of  privilege  and 
intolerance.  It  is  evident  that  his  boyhood  was  spent  under  happy 
influences.  As  a  proof  of  this,  here  is  a  portion  of  his  father's 
answer  to  the  above  letter,  showing  the  excellent  lessons  which  this 
unworldly  man  inculcated  on  his  clever,  eager,  inquiring  boy,  who 
ever  spoke  of  him  in  after  years  with  the  highest  reverence  and 
respect : — 

"  MY  DEAR  WILLIAM,  ....  Your  brother  said  that  your  letter 
to  him  was  very  long,  very  clever,  and  very  entertaining.  On 
Wednesday  evening  we  had  your  letter,  which  was  finished  on  the 
preceding  Monday.  The  piety  displayed  in  the  first  part  of  it  was 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xv 

a  great  refreshment  to  me ;  continue  to  cherish  those  thoughts 
which  then  occupied  your  mind.  Continue  to  be  virtuous,  and 
you  will  finally  be  that  happy  being  whom  you  describe ;  and, 
to  this  purpose,  you  have  nothing  more  to  do  than  to  pursue  that 
conduct  which  will  always  yield  you  the  highest  pleasures  even 
in  this  present  life.  But  he  who  once  gives  way  to  any  known 
vice,  in  the  very  instant  hazards  his  total  depravity  and  total  ruin. 
You  must,  therefore,  fixedly  resolve  never,  through  any  possible 
motives,  to  do  anything  which  you  believe  to  be  wrong.  This  will 
be  only  resolving  never  to  be  miserable ;  and  this  I  rejoicingly 
expect  will  be  the  unwavering  resolution  of  my  William.  Your 
conversation  upon  the  Test  Act  did  you  honour.  If  we  only  think 
justly,  we  shall  always  easily  foil  all  the  advocates  of  tyranny.  The 
inhospitable  ladies  whom  you  mention  were  perhaps  treated  by 
you  with  too  great  severity.  We  know  not  how  people  may  be 
circumstanced  at  a  particular  moment,  whose  disposition  is  generally 
friendly.  They  may  then  happen  to  pass  under  a  cloud  which 
unfits  them  for  social  intercourse.  We  must  see  them  more  than 
once  or  twice  to  be  able  to  form  a  tolerable  judgment  of  their 
characters.  I  only  wish  to  caution  you  against  forming  too  hasty 
a  judgment  of  characters,  who  can  seldom  be  known  at  a  single 
interview.  ...  I  am  glad  you  employed  the  last  Sunday  so  well ; 
and  that  the  employment  afforded  you  so  much  satisfaction.  Nothing 
else  can  truly  satisfy  us  but  the  acquisition  of  knowledge  and 
virtue.  May  these  blessings  be  yours  more  and  more  every  day  ! " 

Strange  to  say,  his  first  literary  production  made  its  appearance 
when  he  was  only  thirteen.  The  occasion  was  this.  The  Birming- 
ham mob,  in  an  outburst  of  zeal  for  the  supposed  interests  of  the 
monarchy  and  the  Christian  religion,  had  burned  the  house  of  Dr. 
Priestley  over  his  head,  and  had  destroyed  his  valuable  library. 
Fired  by  this  insult  to  one  who  professed  the  religion  in  which  he 
himself  had  been  brought  up,  the  boy  wrote  a  letter  to  the  editor 
of  the  Shrewsbury  Chronicle  on  the  subject.  It  is  so  remarkable  a 
production  for  so  young  a  writer,  and  so  reveals  his  mental  character 
and  future  opinions,  that  it  is  worth  giving  entire  : — 

"ME.  WOOD, — 'Tis  really  surprising  that  men — men,  too,  that 
aspire  to  the  character  of  Christians — should  seem  to  take  such 
pleasure  in  endeavouring  to  load  with  infamy  one  of  the  best,  one 
of  the  wisest,  and  one  of  the  greatest  of  men. 

"  One  of  your  late  correspondents,  under  the  signature  of  OTAEIS, 
seems  desirous  of  having  Dr.  Priestley  in  chains,  and  indeed  would 


xvi  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZILTT. 

not  perhaps  (from  the  gentleman's  seemingly  charitable  disposi- 
tion) be  greatly  averse  to  seeing  him  in  the  flames  also.  This  is 
the  Christian ! 

"  This  the  mild  spirit  its  great  Master  taught.  Ah !  Chris- 
tianity, how  art  thou  debased !  How  am  I  grieved  to  see  that 
universal  benevolence,  that  love  to  all  mankind,  that  love  even  to 
our  enemies,  and  that  compassion  for  the  failings  of  our  fellow-men, 
that  thou  art  contracted  to  promote,  contracted  and  shrunk  up 
within  the  narrow  limits  that  prejudice  and  bigotry  mark  out. 
But  to  return  ; — supposing  the  gentleman's  end  to  be  intentionally 
good,  supposing  him  indeed  to  desire  all  this,  in  order  to  extir- 
pate the  Doctor's  supposedly  impious  and  erroneous  doctrines  and 
promote  the  cause  of  truth ;  yet  the  means  he  would  use  are 
certainly  wrong.  For  may  I  be  allowed  to  remind  him  of  this 
(which  prejudice  has  hitherto  apparently  prevented  him  from 
seeing),  that  violence  and  force  can  never  promote  the  cause  of 
truth,  but  reason  and  argument  or  love,  and  whenever  these  fail, 
all  other  means  are  vain  and  ineffectual.  And  as  the  Doctor 
himself  has  said  in  his  letter  to  the  inhabitants  of  Birmingham, 
'  that  if  they  destroyed  him,  ten  others  would  arise,  as  able  or  abler 
than  himself,  and  stand  forth  immediately  to  defend  his  principles  ; 
and  that  were  these  destroyed,  an  hundred  would  appear ;  for  the 
God  of  truth  will  not  suffer  His  cause  to  lie  defenceless.' 

"  This  letter  of  the  Doctor's  also,  though  it  throughout  breathes 
the  pure  and  genuine  spirit  of  Christianity,  is,  by  another  of  your 
correspondents,  charged  with  sedition  and  heresy ;  but  indeed,  if 
such  sentiments  as  those  which  it  contains  be  sedition  and  heresy, 
sedition  and  heresy  would  be  an  honour ;  for  all  their  sedition  is 
that  fortitude  that  becomes  the  dignity  of  man  and  the  character 
of  Christian :  and  their  heresy,  Christianity :  the  whole  letter, 
indeed,  far  from  being  seditious,  is  peaceable  and  charitable,  and 
far  from  being  heretical,  that  is,  in  the  usual  acceptance  of  the 
word,  furnishing  proofs  of  that  resignation  so  worthy  of  himself. 
And  to  be  sensible  of  this,  'tis  only  necessary  that  any  one,  laying 
aside  prejudice,  read  the  letter  itself  with  candour.  What  or  who, 
then,  is  free  from  the  calumniating  pen  of  malice — malice  concealed, 
perhaps,  under  the  specious  disguise  of  religion  and  a  love  of  truth  ? 

"Keligious  persecution  is  the  bane  of  all  religion,  and  the 
friends  of  persecution  are  the  worst  enemies  religion  has ;  and  of 
all  persecutions,  that  of  calumny  is  the  most  intolerable.  Any 
other  kind  of  persecution  can  affect  our  outward  circumstances 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xvii 

only,  our  properties,  our  lives ;  but  this  may  affect  our  characters 
for  ever.  And  this  great  man  has  not  only  had  his  goods  spoiled, 
his  habitation  burned,  and  his  life  endangered,  but  is  also  calum- 
niated, aspersed  with  the  most  malicious  reflections,  and  charged 
with  everything  bad,  for  which  a  misrepresentation  of  the  truth 
and  prejudice  can  give  the  least  pretence.  And  why  all  this  1  To 
the  shame  of  some  one,  let  it  be  replied,  merely  on  account  of 
particular  speculative  opinions,  and  not  anything  scandalous,  shame- 
ful, or  criminal  in  his  moral  character.  'Where  I  see,'  says  the 
great  and  admirable  Robinson,  'a  spirit  of  intolerance,  I  think 
1  see  the  great  Devil.'  And  'tis  certainly  the  worst  of  devils.  And 
here  I  shall  conclude,  staying  only  to  remind  your  anti-Priestlian 
correspondents,  that  when  they  presume  to  attack  the  character 
of  Dr.  Priestley,  they  do  not  so  much  resemble  the  wren  pecking 
at  the  eagle,  as  the  owl  attempting  by  the  flap  of  her  wings  to 
hurl  Mount  Etna  into  the  ocean ;  and  that  while  Dr.  Priestley's 
name  'shall  flourish  in  immortal  youth,'  and  his  memory  be 
respected  and  revered  by  posterity,  prejudice  no  longer  blinding 
the  understandings  of  men,  theirs  will  be  forgotten  in  obscurity,  or 
only  remembered  as  the  friends  of  bigotry  and  persecution,  the 
most  odious  of  all  characters.  EAIASON." 

While  at  Liverpool,  young  Hazlitt  acquired  some  knowledge 
of  French  and  music.  Afterwards  he  continued  to  read  with  hia 
father,  but  does  not  appear  to  have  devoted  much  time  to  writing. 
His  father  had  a  strong  desire  to  see  his  son  a  Dissenting  minister  ; 
but  to  this  destination  the  youth  had  an  invincible  repugnance.  In 
his  fifteenth  year,  however,  he  was  sent  to  the  Unitarian  College  at 
Hackney,  where  he  was  placed  under  the  tutorship  of  a  Mr.  Corrie, 
who  is  reported  to  have  said  of  his  pupil  that  "  he  found  him  rather 
backward  in  many  of  the  ordinary  points  of  learning,  and  in 
general  of  a  dry  and  intractable  understanding."  His  mind  was 
occupying  itself  with  political  and  metaphysical  ideas  and  projects. 
Philosophy  gained  more  of  his  attention  than  Theology.  In  the 
ordinary  routine  of  education  for  the  Unitarian  ministry,  he  was  a 
backward  student.  His  teacher  found  that  this  intractable  pupil 
was  not  an  idler,  but  that  his  head  was  full  of  arguments  about  the 
bounds  of  religious  liberty,  the  repeal  of  the  Corporation  and  Test 
Acts,  and  a  project  for  a  new  theory  of  civil  and  criminal  juris- 
prudence. The  latter  scheme  of  political  rights  and  general  juris- 
prudence was  afterwards  (1828)  set  forth  by  him  in  the  form  which 

B 


xviii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

it  takes  in  the  Literary  Remains  (1836).  Naturally  enough,  his 
father  wished  that  he  should  abandon  this  desultory  essay-writing 
and  devote  himself  to  the  work  of  the  College  ;  but  to  the  expres- 
sion of  this  wish  he  replied  with  a  dignified  statement  of  his  opinion 
that,  "  with  respect  to  themes,  he  really  thought  them  disserviceable 
than  otherwise."  How,  when,  and  under  what  circumstances  he 
quitted  the  Unitarian  College  is  not  recorded.  It  would  seem,  how- 
ever, that  he  entirely  abandoned  the  notion  of  entering  the  Unitarian 
ministry,  and  that  he  returned  to  his  father's  house  at  Wem. 

It  was  at  this  time,  1798,  when  Hazlitt  was  twenty  years  old, 
that  Coleridge,  who  was  officiating  at  Shrewsbury  for  the  Unitarian 
minister  there,  came  over  to  Wem,  according  to  the  custom  of 
courtesy  among  ministers,  to  pay  a  visit  to  the  Eev.  William  Hazlitt. 
Y"oung  Hazlitt  had  already  walked  to  Shrewsbury,  through  ten 
miles  of  mud,  to  hear  him  preach  ;  and  his  recollections  of  what  he 
then  heard,  and  of  Coleridge's  visit  to  Wem  a  few  days  later,  is  too 
well  known  to  be  more  than  alluded  to  here.  These  recollections 
are  given  in  his  brilliant  paper,  entitled,  "  My  First  Acquaintance 
with  Poets,"  which  will  be  found  in  extenso  in  the  present  volume. 
Coleridge's  brilliancy  entirely  captivated  young  Hazlitt,  who  was 
bitterly  disappointed  when,  after  three  months'  stay  at  Shrewsbury, 
Coleridge  accepted  Mr.  Thomas  Wedgwood's  offer  of  an  annuity 
of  ^150  to  retire  from  the  ministry,  and  devote  himself  to  poetry 
and  philosophy.  This  change  did  not  break  up  their  friend- 
ship. Coleridge  invited  the  young  thinker  to  visit  him  at  Nether 
Stowey,  in  Somersetshire,  where,  some  time  later,  he  received  him 
kindly,  and  took  him  to  Alfoxden,  two  miles  from  Stowey,  where 
Wordsworth  was  then  living.  The  poet  was  then  from  home,  but 
in  a  day  or  two  after  his  return  from  Bristol,  he  called  at  Coleridge's 
cottage  ;  and  there  it  was  that  Hazlitt  first  saw  Wordsworth  face  to 
face. 

It  was  during  this  visit  that  Coleridge  first  encouraged  young 
Hazlitt  to  write.  The  work  he  set  himself  to  compose  was  An  Essay 
on  the  Principles  of  Human  Action:  being  An  Argument  in  favour  of 
the  Natural  Disinterestedness  of  the  Human  Mindj  but  it  was  not 
published  until  eight  years  afterwards,  viz.,  in  1805.  Sir  James 
Mackintosh  pronounced  it  "  a  work  of  great  ability."  Hazlitt 
himself  said  of  it,  that  it  was  "  the  only  thing  I  ever  piqued  myself 
upon  writing."  It  is  remarkable  as  an  instance  of  early  development 
of  the  reasoning  powers — the  first  rough  draft  or  outline  of  the  plan 
of  the  essay  being  made  at  the  age  of  eighteen.  The  sale  of  the 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  XJX 

book  was  small,  and  he  never  received  any  profit  from  it.  A  valu- 
able friend  made  by  him  about  this  time  was  the  Eev.  Joseph 
Fawcett,  who  had  a  strong  relish  for  all  good  literature,  and  for  the 
catholicity  of  whose  tastes  he  always  expressed  great  admiration. 
"  A  heartier  friend  or  honester  critic  I  never  coped  withal.  With 
him  I  passed  some  of  the  pleasantest  days  of  my  life.  The  con- 
versations I  had  with  him  on  subjects  of  taste  and  philosophy  gave 
me  a  delight  such  as  I  can  never  feel  again." 

From  1798  to  1802  little  is  known  of  Hazlitt  and  his  doings.  He 
had  for  some  time  definitely  abandoned  the  notion  of  entering  the 
Unitarian  ministry,  but  had  not  settled  on  any  plan  of  life.  His 
time  seems  to  have  been  spent  in  reading  and  thinking,  but  without 
any  fixed  object.  A  career  was,  however,  indispensable.  The  income 
of  his  father  was  wholly  insufficient  to  support  him  in  practical 
idleness,  so  that  he  began  to  cast  about  for  some  means  of  living. 
At  this  time,  his  elder  brother  John,  who  had  become  a  painter, 
/:ame  forward  with  a  suggestion  that  he  should  embrace  the  pro- 
fession of  painting.  This  notion  was  adopted,  and  in  1802  William 
took  up  his  abode  under  his  brother's  roof,  and  began  the  study 
of  art  in  earnest.  In  October  of  the  same  year  he  left  England 
for  Paris,  where  he  continued  his  studies,  occupying  himself  with 
copying  some  of  the  pictures  in  the  Louvre.  He  remained  four 
months  in  Paris,  and  during  that  time  made  copies  and  sketches 
from  Titian,  Guido,  Eaphael's  Transfiguration,  and  Lana's  Death  of 
Clorinda — a  kind  of  work  for  which  he  had  sundry  commissions 
from  friends  of  his  brother  in  London.  He  then  returned  to 
England,  bringing  with  him,  not  merely  his  copies  from  the  great 
masters,  but  a  set  of  tastes  and  principles  in  art,  very  few  of 
which  he  ever  afterwards  modified.  Not  long  after  his  return, 
he  made  a  professional  tour  in  the  North  of  England  as  a  portrait- 
painter,  and  was  not  unsuccessful  in  obtaining  sitters.  Words- 
worth sat  to  him,  but  Hazlitt,  dissatisfied  with  his  work,  destroyed 
the  portrait.  During  this  tour  he  visited  a  family  in  Liverpool 
called  Eailton,  who  were  friends  of  his  father's,  and  fell  in  love  with 
an  attractive  daughter  of  the  house,  of  whom  he  painted  a  minia- 
ture on  ivory.  The  suit  was  not  favoured  by  the  young  lady's  family 
and  the  relations  between  the  lovers  were  broken  off.  Somewhere 
about  this  time  it  is  reported  that  he  fell  in  love  a  second  time 
— in  this  case,  with  a  rustic  beauty  in  Wordsworth's  neighbourhood. 
According  to  Patmore,  he  narrowly  escaped  being  ducked  by  the 
villagers  for  his  unwelcome  attentions.  De  Quincey  reports  that 


xx  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

Hazlitt  was  smitten  by  the  charms  of  Dorothy  Wordsworth,  the 
poet's  sister,  but  the  story  wants  proof.  At  all  events,  if  the  passion 
ever  existed,  it  came  to  nothing. 

Among  other  portraits,  he  painted  one  of  his  father — which  was  a 
labour  of  love  both  to  artist  and  sitter — a  half-length  of  Sir  Joshua 
Keynolds,  and  a  head  of  Lear.  One  of  his  earliest  attempts  was  the 
head  of  an  old  woman  in  deep  shade,  of  which  he  makes  mention 
in  one  of  his  essays.  It  was  done  after  the  manner  of  Rembrandt, 
and  was  said  to  have  been  a  picture  of  considerable  effect.  He  was 
a  severe  critic  of  his  own  performances,  and  his  standard  was  a  high 
one.  He  failed  to  satisfy  his  own  aspirations  and  ideals,  or  to  over- 
come the  diffidence  he  felt  in  his  own  powers.  He  was  often  im- 
patient with  himself,  and  when  he  could  not  produce  the  effect  he 
desired,  he  has  been  known  to  cut  the  canvas  into  ribbons.  At  last 
he  decisively  relinquished  the  pursuit  he  so  much  loved,  and  laid 
down  his  pencil  for  ever.  It  is  difficult  to  say  whether  patience  and 
perseverance  would  have  overcome  his  difficulties.  Northcote  said 
he  gave  up  the  experiment  too  soon,  and  that  he  would  have  made 
a  great  painter  had  he  devoted  himself  entirely  to  his  art.  Among 
the  latest  work  from  his  hand  was  a  portrait  of  his  newly-made 
friend,  Charles  Lamb,  in  the  dress  of  a  Venetian  senator.  The 
discipline  of  this  brief  practice  of  art  was  no  doubt  of  permanent 
advantage  to  him.  It  has  been  justly  said  that  it  made  him  better 
understand  "  the  worth  of  beauty  and  the  elements  of  character  ; 
his  perception  was  quickened,  his  insight  deepened,  and  his  powers 
as  an  observer  and  analyst  enlarged."  In  connection  with  this 
phase  of  his  life,  his  essays  on  "  The  Pleasure  of  Painting,"  "  On 
a  Portrait  by  Vandyck,"  "On  a  Landscape  of  Nicholas  Poussin," 
"Sketches  of  the  Principal  Picture-Galleries  in  England,"  and  his 
article  "  The  Fine  Arts,"  are  well  worth  reading. 

In  1806  he  published  at  his  own  expense  a  pamphlet  entitled 
Free  Thoughts  on  Public  Affairs;  or  Advice  to  a  Patriot.  Although 
powerful  in  its  language  and  breathing  a  warm  spirit  of  freedom, 
it  attracted  little  attention,  and  is  now  all  but  unknown.  It  is 
reprinted  in  the  volume,  containing  "The  Spirit  of  the  Age"  in 
Messrs.  Bell  &  Sons'  edition  of  his  chief  works.  In  1807  ap- 
peared An  Abridgment  of  The  Light  of  Nature  Revealed,  by  Abraham 
Tucker,  Esq.,  originally  published  in  seven  volumes,  under  the  name  of 
Edivard  Search,  Esq.  It  was  through  the  friendly  offices  of  Charles 
Lamb  (whose  acquaintance  he  had  about  this  time  made  through 
his  brother  John)  that  Johnson  the  publisher  was  induced  to  under- 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxi 

take  the  issue  of  this  work.  In  it  the  spirit  of  the  seven  volumes 
is  felicitously  condensed  into  one,  in  which  are  preserved  entire  all 
the  singular  turns  of  thought  and  striking  illustrations  of  the 
original.  "  As  to  the  pains  and  labour  it  has  cost  me,  or  the  time 
I  have  devoted  to  it,"  he  says,  "  I  shall  say  nothing.  However,  if 
any  one  should  be  scrupulous  on  that  head,  I  might  answer,  as  Sir 
Joshua  Eeynolds  is  said  to  have  done  to  some  persons  who  cavilled 
at  the  price  of  a  picture,  and  desired  to  know  how  long  he  had  been 
doing  it — '  All  my  life ' "  In  his  "  Dissertation  on  the  Progress  of 
Ethical  Philosophy,"  Sir  James  Mackintosh  devotes  a  chapter  to 
Tucker,  and  refers  to  Hazlitt's  abridgment  of  it,  and  "  his  excellent 
preface  to  it."  The  learned  Dr.  Parr,  who  was  a  thorough  master 
of  the  original  work,  said  that  he  never  could  tell  what  had  been 
omitted  in  the  abridgment  —  a  very  happy  compliment  to  the 
abridger.  In  the  same  year  (1807)  he  issued  a  clever  attempt  to 
invalidate  the  theory  of  Malthus,  under  the  title,  Reply  to  the  Essay 
on  Population  by  the  Rev.  T.  R.  Malthus.  In  a  Series  of  Letters :  to 
which  are  added  Extracts  from  the  Essay,  with  Notes.  This  had  been 
begun  as  a  series  of  letters  in  a  newspaper,  and  was  advertised  by 
Longman  &  Co.  as  in  the  press  "by  a  person  of  eminence."  He 
also  gave  to  the  world  this  year  The  Eloquence  of  the  British  Senate  ; 
or  Select,  Specimens  from  the  Speeches  of  the  most  distinguished  Parlia- 
mentary Speakers,  from  the  beginning  of  the  Reign  of  Charles  I.  to  the 
present  time;  with  Notes,  Biographical,  Critical,  and  Explanatory,  2 
vols.  This  was  a  piece  of  honest  taskwork.  The  speeches  are 
illustrated  by  powerfully  drawn  characters  of  some  of  the  more 
prominent  orators — especially  those  of  more  recent  date — Chatham, 
Pitt,  Burke,  and  Fox.  These  portraits  were  afterwards  reprinted 
in  his  Political  Essays,  1819. 

It  was  at  the  house  of  his  brother  John,  at  12  Rathbone  Place, 
that  Hazlitt  first  met  Dr.  Stoddart  and  his  sister  Sarah.  Stoddart, 
who  was  then,  like  John  Hazlitt,  an  extreme  Liberal  in  politics,  was 
appointed  King's  Advocate  at  Malta.  In  1807  Hazlitt  became 
engaged  to  Miss  Stoddart,  who  was  about  thirty-two  years  of  age, 
he  being  twenty-nine.  She  had  been  on  the  point  of  marriage  several 
times,  but  the  various  matches  had  been  broken  off,  generally  on 
account  of  pecuniary  reasons.  Miss  Stoddart  seems  to  have  been 
intimate  with  Mary  Lamb,  and  those  who  are  curious  to  know  more 
about  the  former  lady  will  find  a  number  of  letters  from  Mary  to 
her  friend  in  Mr.  W.  C.  Hazlitt's  Memoir  of  his  grandfather.  The 
marriage,  after  some  preparations,  in  which  he  exhibited  much 


xxii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

eccentricity,  was  solemnised  on  Sunday,  ist  May  1808,  at  St. 
Andrew's,  Holborn.  The  only  persons  present,  besides  the  bride 
and  bridegroom,  were  Dr.  and  Mrs.  Stoddart,  and  Charles  Lamb 
and  his  sister.  The  bride's  property,  which  was  worth  about  ^120 
per  annum,  had  been,  at  her  brother's  instigation,  and  to  Hazlitt's 
annoyance,  settled  upon  herself.  The  ceremony  over,  they  proceeded 
to  the  village  of  Winterslow,  in  Wiltshire,  where  Mrs.  Hazlitt's  little 
property  was  situated.  They  lived  in  a  cottage  which  formed  part 
of  the  property.  Here  Hazlitt  prepared  a  work  which  appeared  in 
1810  under  the  following  title — A  New  and  Improved  Grammar  of 
the  English  Tongue;  for  the  use  of  Schools.  In  which  the  Genius  of 
our  Speech  is  especially  attended  to,  and  the  Discoveries  of  Mr.  Home 
TooTce,  and  other  Modern  Writers  on  the  Formation  of  Language  are  for 
the  first  time  incorporated.  To  which  is  added  a  New  Guide  to  the 
English  Tongue,  in  a  Letter  to  W.  F.  Mylius,  author  of  the  School 
Dictionary,  by  Edward  Baldwin,  Esq.  This  work,  although  well 
received,  was  not  a  success.  It  never  reached  a  second  edition,  and 
is  now  a  bibliographical  curiosity.  It  was  afterwards  abridged  by 
Mr.  Godwin,  under  the  name  of  Baldwin.  A  critic  of  the  day  said, 
that  although  intended  for  the  use  of  schools,  "yet  the  advanced 
student  would  find  in  it  much  valuable  information,  the  definitions 
being  concise  yet  intelligible,  the  rules  clear  and  important,  and 
the  examples  selected  perspicuous  and  appropriate."  He  also  about 
this  time  prepared  an  abridgment  into  English  of  Bourgoing's 
"Tableau  de  1'Espagne  moderne,"  but  this  was  labour  wasted,  as 
no  publisher  would  bring  it  out.  It  was  never  printed,  and  still 
remains  in  MS. 

In  January  1809  a  son  was  born,  who  was  named  William,  but  he 
died  when  six  months  old.  In  the  following  autumn  the  Lambs  paid 
a  visit  to  the  Hazlitts  in  Wiltshire,  along  with  Martin  Burney  and 
Colonel  Phillips.  After  a  fashion  which  it  is  now  difficult  to  under- 
stand, these  guests  appear  to  have  paid  for  their  board  during  their 
stay  in  Wiltshire.  Hazlitt  was  about  this  time  busy  with  a  Memoir 
of  Holcroft,  which,  however,  did  not  appear  until  1816,  under  the 
title  Memoirs  of  the  late  Thomas  Holcroft,  written  by  himself;  and 
continued  to  the  time  of  his  Death,  from  his  Diary,  Notes,  and  other 
Papers.  The  continuation  is  by  Hazlitt.  It  was  reprinted  in  1852 
in  "The  Traveller's  Library."  The  materials  for  this  work  had 
been  confided  to  him  by  Holcroft's  family.  It  was  humorously 
nicknamed  by  Mary  Lamb  "The  Life  Everlasting,"  from  the  way 
in  which  it  was  perpetually  talked  about  by  friends  interested  in 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxiii 

Holcroft,  and  from  the  inordinate  length  of  time  during  which  it 
hung  on  hand.  On  26th  September  1811  another  son  was  born. 
Like  the  first,  he  was  named  William,  after  his  father  and  his 
grandfather.  A  few  months  afterwards  the  couple  moved  from 
Winterslow  to  London,  where  they  settled  down  at  No.  19  York 
Street,  Westminster — a  house  which,  according  to  tradition,  had 
belonged  to  Milton,  and  which  looked  out  upon  one  occupied  by 
Jeremy  Bentham.  Hazlitt  had  no  introductions,  was  shy,  proud, 
and  irritable,  and  had  need,  as  Lamb  hinted,  of  "something  of  a 
better  temper,"  if  not  of  "  a  smoother  head  of  hair."  He  had  ability 
enough  to  set  up  a  score  of  popular  authors,  and  a  warm  heart,  but 
he  was  wanting  in  that  open  manner  which  goes  so  far  in  the  way 
of  attracting  and  winning  friends.  He  was  then  thirty-four  years 
old.  He  had  one  or  two  intimates  who  understood  and  loved  him — 
notably  Charles  Lamb  and  his  sister.  He  began  his  London  career 
by  proposing  to  the  Royal  Institution  to  give  a  course  of  ten  lectures 
on  the  English  Philosophers  and  Metaphysicians.  His  name  being 
in  some  repute,  the  offer  was  accepted.  Some  fragments  of  these 
lectures  have  been  given  in  the  volumes  entitled  Literary  Remains. 
He  also  sought  and  obtained  an  engagement  as  a  parliamentary 
reporter  on  the  Morning  Chronicle.  He  was  not  a  good  shorthand 
writer,  and  trusted  much  to  his  good  memory.  After  a  short 
experiment  of  this  kind  of  life,  he  took  to  critical  writing  for  the 
Chronicle,  sometimes  contributing  political  articles.  Early  in  1814 
he  succeeded  Mr.  Mudford  as  theatrical  critic  on  that  paper.  His 
dramatic  experiences  commenced  with  Bannister.  His  great  favourites 
were  Kean  and  Miss  Stephens,  and  he  was  an  enthusiastic  admirer  of 
Mrs.  Siddons.  His  connection  with  the  Chronicle  was  not  of  long 
continuance.  About  this  time  he  also  wrote  for  the  Examiner  and 
the  Champion  newspapers.  In  1814  Jeffrey  asked  him  to  write  for 
the  Edinburgh  Review.  His  second  article  embodied  a  brilliant  series 
of  sketches  of  the  English  Novelists  (including  remarks  on  Cervantes 
and  Le  Sage),  which  he  afterwards  reproduced  in  his  Lectures  on 
the  English  Comic  Writers.  The  reader  will  find  this  delightful 
paper  in  the  selections  following  this  Memoir.  For  some  years  his 
contributions  to  the  Edinburgh  Review  were  tolerably  numerous. 
Altogether  nineteen  articles  from  his  pen  appeared  in  its  pages, 
ranging  from  1814  to  1830.  His  grandson  gives  a  list  of  fourteen 
only.  In  a  letter  to  Notes  and  Queries,  March  1879,  to  which  any 
reader  curious  in  this  matter  is  referred,  I  point  out  five  additional 
articles,  which  may  without  doubt  be  attributed  to  him,  one  of  them, 


xxiv  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

on  "  American  Literature  and  Dr.  Channing,"  of  peculiar  interest  for 
reasons  given  in  my  communication. 

Mr.  W.  C.  Hazlitt  *  in  his  Memoir  of  his  grandfather  refers  to  the 
establishment  in  York  Street,  Westminster,  and  to  the  domestic  mis- 
management and  want  of  home  comfort  which  characterised  it.  He 
gives  a  curious  illustration  of  this,  furnished  by  Haydon  the  artist, 
whom  Hazlitt  had  invited  to  a  christening  entertainment.  When 
Haydon  arrived,  Hazlitt  was  out  endeavouring  to  find  a  parson,  and 
his  wife  was  sitting  by  the  fire  in  a  bedgown, — nothing  ready  for 
the  guests,  and  everything  wearing  the  appearance  of  neglect  and 
indifference.  The  biographer,  speaking  of  his  grand-parents,  says 
that  "  the  marriage  was  certainly  not  one  of  choice  (though  it  was  in 
no  way  forced  upon  him),  and  the  woman  with  whom  he  thus  knit 
himself  permanently  was  one  of  the  least  domestic  of  her  sex.  She 
was  a  lady  of  excellent  disposition,  an  affectionate  mother,  and 
endowed  with  no  ordinary  intelligence  and  information.  But  for 
household  economy  she  had  not  the  slightest  turn ;  and  she  was 
selfish,  unsympathising,  without  an  idea  of  management,  and 
destitute  of  all  taste  in  dress.  She  was  fond  of  finery,  but  her 
finery  was  not  always  very  congruous.  A  lady  is  living  who 
recollects  very  well  the  first  visit  Mrs.  Hazlitt  paid  to  her  family  at 
Bayswater.  It  was  a  very  wet  day,  and  she  had  been  to  a  walking 
match.  She  was  dressed  in  a  white  muslin  gown  and  black  velvet 
spencer,  and  a  leghorn  hat  with  a  white  feather.  Her  clothes  were 
perfectly  saturated,  and  a  complete  change  of  things  was  necessary 
before  she  could  sit  down."  With  a  wife  of  such  "  excellent  dis- 
position" and  habits  as  the  mistress  of  his  household,  it  was  not 
likely  that  the  wayward  and  unmethodical  Hazlitt  could  lead  a  very 
happy  or  comfortable  life.  Later  on  it  will  be  seen  how  the  union 
of  this  ill-matched  pair  ended. 

Between  January  1815  and  January  1817  appeared  a  series  of 
papers  in  the  Examiner  under  the  title,  "The  Round  Table," 
which  in  the  latter  year  were  collected  in  two  volumes,  with  some 
omissions  and  additions,  and  published  under  the  title  The  Round 
Table:  A  Collection  of  Essays  on  Literature,  Men,  and  Manners. 
It  was  proposed  that  this  series  of  papers  should  be  in  the  manner 
of  the  early  periodical  essayists  the  Spectator  and  Taller.  Twelve 

*  Grandson  of  William  Hazlitt,  author  of  "  Memoir  of  William  Hazlitt," 
"History  of  the  Origin  and  Rise  of  the  Venetian  Republic,"  "A  Hand- 
Book  of  Early  English  Literature,"  "  Mary  and  Charles  Lamb,  Their  Poems, 
Letters  and  Remains,"  editor  of  "The  Shakespeare  Jest-Books,"  &c.  &c. 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxv 

of  the  essays  were  contributed  by  Leigh.  Hunt,  and  one  by  an 
anonymous  writer.  The  rest  were  by  Hazlitt.  These  papers  are 
generally  shorter  than  those  he  wrote  later.  They  are  distinguished 
by  force  of  style  and  acuteness  of  observation,  and  deserve  a  place 
in  the  literature  of  the  earlier  portion  of  this  century.  They  possess 
all  the  ease  and  unstudied  variety  of  conversation. 

In  1817  Hazlitt  gave  to  the  world  his  Characters  of  Shakespeare's 
Plays.  This  work,  although  it  professes  to  be  dramatic  criticism, 
is  in  reality  a  discourse  on  the  philosophy  of  life  and  human  nature, 
more  suggestive  than  many  approved  treatises  expressly  devoted 
to  that  subject.  It  was  very  favourably  criticised  by  Jeffrey  in  the 
Edinburgh  Review,  who  considered  it  a  work  of  originality  and 
genius.  "  What  we  chiefly  look  for  in  such  a  work,"  says  he,  "  is  a 
fine  sense  of  the  beauties  of  the  author,  and  an  eloquent  exposition 
of  them :  and  all  this,  and  more,  we  think  may  be  found  in  the 
volume  before  us.  There  is  nothing  niggardly  in  his  praises,  and 
nothing  affected  in  his  raptures.  He  seems  animated  throughout 
with  a  full  and  hearty  sympathy  with  the  delight  which  his 
author  should  inspire,  and  pours  himself  gladly  out  in  explanation 
of  it,  with  a  fluency  and  ardour,  obviously  much  more  akin  to 
enthusiasm  than  affectation." 

In  1818  his  dramatic  criticisms,  contributed  during  the  previous 
four  years  to  the  Morning  Chronicle,  the  Champion,  the  Examiner, 
and  the  Times,  were  collected  into  a  volume,  under  the  title,  A 
View  of  the  English  Stage,  or  a  Series  of  Dramatic  Criticisms.  He 
had  always  been  fond  of  the  theatres,  and  frequented  them  to  the 
last.  His  earliest  admiration  rested  on  Mrs.  Siddons.  He  always 
held  that  she  had  touched  the  summit  of  perfection.  "  While  the 
stage  lasts,"  he  used  to  say,  "there  never  will  be  another  Mrs. 
Siddons."  One  of  the  last  essays  he  wrote,  only  a  few  months 
before  his  death,  was  called  "  The  Free  Admission,"  which  is  full 
of  picturesque  and  striking  thought.  The  finest  criticisms  in  the 
above-named  volume  are  those  in  which  he  illustrated  the  acting 
of  Edmund  Kean,  whose  matchless  powers  he  recognised  at  once 
on  the  very  first  evening  of  his  appearance,  and  whose  reputation 
he  did  so  much  to  establish,  in  spite  of  actors,  managers,  and  critics. 
From  that  night  he  became  the  most  devoted  of  Kean's  supporters. 
"  His  dramatic  criticisms,"  says  Talfourd,  "  are  more  pregnant  with 
fine  thoughts  on  that  bright  epitome  of  human  life  than  any 
other  which  ever  were  written.  .  .  .  He  began  to  write  with  a  rich 
fund  of  theatrical  recollections ;  and  except  when  Kean,  or  Miss 


xxvi  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

Stephens,  or  Listen  supplied  new  and  decided  impulses,  he  did 
little  more  than  draw  upon  this  old  treasury.  The  theatre  to  him 
was  redolent  of  the  past — of  images  of  Mrs.  Siddons,  of  Kemble, 
of  Bannister,  of  Jordan,  .  .  .  but  his  habits  of  mind  were  unsuited 
to  the  ordinary  duties  of  a  theatrical  critic.  The  players  put  him 
out.  He  could  not,  like  Leigh  Hunt,  who  gave  theatrical  criticism 
a  place  in  modern  literature,  apply  his  graphic  powers  to  the  details 
of  a  performance,  and  make  it  interesting  by  the  delicacy  of  his 
touch.  ...  In  just  and  picturesque  criticism,  Hunt  has  never 
been  approached." 

In  the  same  year  (1818)  he  gave  a  series  of  eight  lectures  on  the 
English  Poets  at  the  Surrey  Institution.  These  were  followed  by 
two  other  courses,  on  the  English  Comic  Writers  in  1819,  and  on  the 
Literature  of  the  Age  of  Elizabeth  in  1821.  With  reference  to  his 
manner  in  lecturing,  his  friend  Talfourd  says  that  he  was  not  eloquent 
in  the  true  sense  of  the  term  ;  for  his  thoughts  were  too  weighty  to 
be  moved  along  by  the  shallow  stream  of  feeling  which  an  evening's 
excitement  can  rouse.  He  wrote  all  his  lectures,  and  read  them  as 
they  were  written  ;  but  his  deep  voice  and  earnest  manner  suited 
his  matter  well.  He  seemed  to  dig  into  his  subject — and  not  in 
vain.  In  delivering  his  longer  quotations,  he  had  scarcely  continuity 
enough  for  the  versification  of  Shakespeare  and  Milton,  "  with  linked 
sweetness  long  drawn  out ; "  but  he  gave  Pope's  brilliant  satire  and 
divine  compliments,  which  are  usually  complete  within  the  couplet, 
with  an  elegance  and  point  which  the  poet  himself  would  have  felt 
as  their  highest  praise.  Talfourd  mentions  one  or  two  instances  in 
which  he  startled  and  shocked  his  audience  with  a  fine  audacity 
which  put  their  prejudices  and  conventional  feelings  on  edge. 
"  When  he  read  a  well-known  extract  from  Cowper,  comparing  a 
poor  villager  with  Voltaire,  and  had  pronounced  the  line  '  a  truth 
the  brilliant  Frenchman  never  knew,'  they  broke  into  a  joyous 
shout  of  self-gratulation  that  they  were  so  much  wiser  than  a  wicked 
Frenchman.  When  he  passed  by  Mrs.  Hannah  More  with  observing 
that '  she  had  written  a  great  deal  which  he  had  never  read,'  a  voice 
gave  expression  to  the  general  commiseration  and  surprise  by  calling 
out,  '  More  pity  for  you  ! '  They  were  confounded  at  his  reading, 
with  more  emphasis  perhaps  than  discretion,  Gay's  epigrammatic 
lines  on  Sir  Richard  Blackmore,  in  which  scriptural  persons  are 
freely  hitched  into  rhyme  ;  but  he  went  doggedly  on  to  the  end, 
and,  by  his  perseverance,  baffled  those  who,  if  he  had  acknowledged 
himself  wrong  by  stopping,  would  have  hissed  him  without  mercy. 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxvii 

He  once  had  an  edifying  advantage  over  them.  He  was  enumera- 
ting the  humanities  which  endeared  Dr.  Johnson  to  his  mind,  and, 
at  the  close  of  an  agreeable  catalogue,  mentioned,  as  last  and  noblest, 
his  carrying  the  poor  victim  of  disease  and  dissipation  on  his  back 
through  Fleet  Street — at  which  a  titter  arose  from  some,  who  were 
struck  by  the  picture  as  ludicrous,  and  a  murmur  from  others,  who 
deemed  the  allusion  unfit  for  ears  polite.  He  paused  for  an  instant, 
and  then  added  in  his  sturdiest  and  most  impressive  manner,  '  An 
act  which  realises  the  parable  of  the  good  Samaritan,'  at  which  his 
moral  and  delicate  hearers  shrunk  rebuked  into  deep  silence." 

The  first  course  of  lectures  was  soon  afterwards  published,  under 
the  title,  Lectures  on  the  English  Poets,  delivered  at  the  Surrey 
Institution,  and  was  well  received — a  second  edition  appearing  in 
the  following  year.  The  volume  is  perhaps  one  of  the  most 
generally  interesting  of  his  critical  works.  He  handles  his  subject 
with  great  gusto,  acuteness,  and  felicity  of  touch ;  you  feel  that 
much  patient  thinking  must  have  been  exercised  by  the  writer 
before  giving  his  final  judgments  on  our  great  poets.  Many  of  these 
judgments  show  a  very  delicate  apprehension  of  the  authors  under 
notice,  mingled  with  an  exquisite  sensitiveness  to  beauty  of  every 
kind,  moral  and  material.  The  reader  capable  of  enjoying  an  in- 
tellectual treat  of  a  high  order  will  linger  over  Keflections  on  Poetry 
in  General,  the  Remarks  on  Shakespeare  and  Milton,  and  his  account 
of  the  Rise  and  Progress  of  the  Lake  School  of  Poetry. 

His  Lectures  on  the  English  Comic  Writers  were  delivered  and 
published  in  the  year  following — 1819.  They  include  a  great  variety 
of  interesting  subjects — the  comic  poets  and  dramatists,  the  perio- 
dical essayists,  the  great  novelists  of  the  last  century — Fielding, 
Smollet,  Sterne  and  Richardson — as  well  as  some  of  the  modern 
writers  of  fiction,  such  as  Scott  and  Godwin.  The  works  of  Hogarth 
also  come  under  review.  The  reader  may  not  agree  with  him  in  his 
estimate  of  Steele,  whom  he  places  above  Addison,  but  he  should 
carefully  read  the  critic's  reasons  for  his  opinion.  In  his  criticism 
on  Johnson  there  will  be  no  difference  of  judgment.  His  remarks 
on  the  Congreve  and  Wycherley  group  of  dramatists  have  been  pro- 
nounced by  Leigh  Hunt  almost  equal  to  Lamb's,  leaving  a  truer 
impression  respecting  them,  as  well  as  containing  the  most  detailed 
criticism  on  their  individual  plays.  His  opinions  of  Rabelais, 
Montaigne,  Cervantes,  and  Le  Sage,  which  occur  in  the  lectures  on 
the  Essayists  and  Novelists,  are  among  the  good  things  in  this 
volume. 


xxviii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

In  1817  and  1818  he  contributed  articles  to  the  Champion,  the 
Examiner,  and  the  Yellow  Dwarf,  a  periodical  started  by  Mr.  John 
Hunt,  which  only  lived  a  few  months.  Most  of  these  articles  were 
afterwards  reprinted  in  his  collected  volumes.  An  Edinburgh  maga- 
zine about  this  date  contained  some  of  his  lucubrations — one  of  them 
being  on  the  question  "  Whether  Pope  was  a  Poet."  In  1 8 1 9  appeared 
A  Letter  to  William  Gifford,  Esq.,  from  William  Hazlitt,  Esq.  It  con- 
sists of  eighty-seven  pages,  and  exposes  "the  wretched  cavillings, 
wilful  falsehoods  and  omissions,  and  servile  malignity"  of  the 
disgraceful  articles  in  the  Quarterly  Review  on  his  Bound  Table, 
Characters  of  Shakespeare's  Plays,  and  Lectures  on  the  English  Poets. 
These  attacks,  as  well  as  those  in  Blackwood's  Magazine,  will  be  spoken 
of  more  fully  in  a  subsequent  page.  Talfourd  said  that  the  latter 
portion  of  the  Letter  to  Gifford  was  one  of  Hazlitt's  noblest  effusions. 

In  1819  was  published  Political  Essays,  with  Sketches  of  Public 
Characters.  It  was  Mr.  Hone's  proposal  to  collect  Hazlitt's  poli- 
tical writings  from  the  columns  of  the  Morning  Chronicle  and  other 
journals,  and  he  was  the  publisher  of  the  volume.  It  was  dedi- 
cated to  John  Hunt,  one  of  the  sturdiest  and  most  independent  of 
Liberals,  and  a  man  of  the  highest  probity.  The  preface  to  this 
collection  runs  to  a  considerable  length — thirty-six  pages.  His  son 
says  of  it,  that  in  his  mind  it  is  "  the  very  finest  and  most  manly 
exposition  of  high  political  principle  that  was  ever  put  forth,  and 
the  whole  of  the  volume  breathes  the  noblest  spirit  of  liberty  and 
virtue."  His  opening  words  are  :  "  I  am  no  politician,  and  still 
less  can  I  be  said  to  be  a  party  man  ;  but  I  have  a  hatred  for  tyranny, 
and  a  contempt  for  its  tools ;  and  this  feeling  I  have  expressed  as 
often  and  as  strongly  as  I  could  ; "  and  a  few  pages  farther  on,  after 
denning  his  principles  and  politics  :  "  This  is  the  only  politics  I 
know  ;  the  only  patriotism  I  feel.  The  question  with  me  is,  whether 
I  and  all  mankind  are  born  slaves  or  free.  That  is  the  one  thing 
necessary  to  know  and  to  make  good.  The  rest  isflocci,  nauci,  nihili, 
pili.  Secure  this  point,  and  all  is  safe ;  lose  this,  and  all  is  lost." 
It  may  be  here  mentioned  that  in  this  volume  were  reprinted  Hazlitt's 
estimates  of  the  characters  of  Burke,  Fox,  Chatham,  and  Pitt,  from 
The  Eloquence  of  the  British  Senate. 

One  of  the  most  important  of  Hazlitt's  works  was  published  in 
1821,  viz.,  Lectures  on  the  Dramatic  Literature  of  the  Age  of 
Elizabeth,  delivered  at  the  Surrey  Institution.  After  a  general 
introductory  view  of  the  subject,  he  criticises  the  dramatists  and 
poets  anterior  to,  contemporary  with,  and  immediately  succeeding 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxix 

Shakespeare — Sir  Philip  Sydney's  "Arcadia"  and  the  works  of 
Bacon,  Sir  Thomas  Browne,  and  Jeremy  Taylor,  the  Spirit  of  Ancient 
and  Modern  Literature,  and  the  German  drama  contrasted  with  that 
of  the  Age  of  Elizabeth.  This  volume  contains  some  of  the  best 
eriticisims  from  his  pen.  They  display  more  than  his  usual  strength, 
acuteness,  and  animation,  with  less  of  his  usual  acerbities  of  temper. 
An  American  critic  justly  says  that  "his  stern,  sharp  analysis  pierces 
and  probes  the  subject  down  through  the  surface  to  the  centre  ;  and 
it  is  exercised  in  a  more  kindly  spirit  than  is  common  with  him. 
He  had  a  profound  appreciation  of  the  elder  dramatists,  though  a 
less  social  feeling  for  them  than  Lamb  ;  and  their  characteristic 
excellences  drew  from  him  some  of  his  heartiest  bursts  of  eloquent 
panegyric."  From  Hazlitt's  criticisms  and  Lamb's  "  Specimens  "  the 
general  reader  will  gain  a  more  vivid  notion  of  the  intellectual  era 
they  commemorate  than  from  any  other  sources  except  the  originals 
themselves.  The  reader  will  find  in  the  Edinburgh  Review  for  1820 
an  article  on  this  volume  from  the  pen  of  Talfourd,  characterised  by 
warm  appreciation  of  the  ability  of  Hazlitt,  as  well  as  by  a  discrimi- 
nating judgment  of  his  deficiencies  and  limitations.  "  He  possesses 
one  noble  quality  at  least,"  says  his  critic,  "  for  the  office  which  he 
has  chosen,  in  the  intense  admiration  and  love  which  he  feels  for  the 
great  authors  on  whose  excellences  he  chiefly  dwells.  His  relish  for 
their  beauties  is  so  keen,  that  while  he  describes  them,  the  pleasures 
which  they  impart  become  almost  palpable  to  the  sense.  He  intro- 
duces us  almost  corporeally  into  the  presence  of  the  great  of  old  time. 
He  draws  aside  the  veil  of  Time  with  a  hand  tremulous  with  mingled 
delight  and  reverence,  and  descants,  with  kindling  enthusiasm,  on 
all  the  delicacies  of  that  picture  of  genius  which  he  discloses.  His 
intense  admiration  of  intellectual  beauty  seems  always  to  sharpen  his 
critical  faculties.  He  perceives  it,  by  a  kind  of  intuitive  power,  how 
deeply  soever  it  may  be  buried  in  rubbish,  and  separates  it  in  a 
moment  from  all  that  would  encumber  or  deform  it."  The  intro- 
ductory lecture  is  distinguished  by  a  peculiar  dignity  and  weight  of 
style  and  observation,  which  makes  it  perhaps  one  of  the  best  and 
most  unexceptionable  of  his  compositions.  He  shows  that  the  general 
causes  of  that  sudden  and  rich  development  of  poetical  feeling  and 
of  intellectual  activity  were  mainly  the  mighty  impulse  given  to 
thought  by  the  Eeformation,  by  the  translation  of  the  Bible,  the 
discovery  of  the  New  World,  and  the  new  opening  of  the  stores  of 
classic  lore.  The  translation  of  the  Bible,  he  considers,  was  the  chief 
influence  in  bringing  about  the  great  work.  To  use  his  own  words,  "  It 


xxx  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

threw  open,  by  a  secret  spring,  the  rich  treasures  of  religion  and 
morality,  which  had  been  there  locked  up  as  in  a  shrine.  It  revealed 
the  visions  of  the  prophets,  and  conveyed  the  lessons  of  inspired 
teachers  to  the  meanest  of  the  people.  .  .  .  The  Bible  was  thrown 
open  to  all  ranks  and  conditions  '  to  run  and  read,'  with  its  wonderful 
table  of  contents,  from  Genesis  to  the  Eevelation.  ...  To  leave 
more  disputable  points,  and  take  only  the  more  historical  parts  of 
the  Old  Testament  or  the  moral  sentiments  of  the  New,  there  is 
nothing  like  them  in  the  power  of  exciting  awe  and  admiration  or 
of  riveting  sympathy.  .  .  .  There  is  something  in  the  character  of 
Christ,  too  (leaving  religious  faith  quite  out  of  the  question),  of 
more  sweetness  and  majesty,  and  more  likely  to  work  a  change  in  the 
mind  of  man,  by  the  contemplation  of  its  idea  alone,  than  any  to  be 
found  in  history,  whether  actual  or  feigned.  His  character  is  that 
of  a  sublime  humanity,  such  as  was  never  seen  on  earth  before  our 
race.  There  shone  manifestly  both  in  His  words  and  actions,  ...  in 
every  act  and  word  of  His  life,  a  grace,  a  mildness,  a  dignity  and  love, 
a  patience  and  wisdom  worthy  of  the  Son  of  God.  His  whole  life 
and  being  were  imbued,  steeped  in  the  word  Charity.  .  .  .  He  taught 
the  love  of  good  for  the  sake  of  good,  without  regard  to  personal  and 
remoter  views,  and  made  the  affections  of  the  heart  the  sole  seat  of 
morality,  instead  of  the  pride  of  the  understanding  or  the  sternness 
of  the  will.  .  .  .  He  has  done  more  to  humanise  the  thoughts  and 
tame  the  unruly  passions  than  all  who  have  tried  to  reform  and 
benefit  mankind." 

Before  leaving  this  work,  I  must  relate  a  circumstance  in  con- 
nection with  it  recorded  by  his  friend  Mr.  Procter  (Barry  Cornwall). 
He  says,  "He  had  a  very  quick  perception  of  the  beauties  and 
defects  of  books.  "When  he  was  about  to  write  his  'Lectures  on 
the  Age  of  Elizabeth,'  he  knew  little  or  nothing  of  the  dramatists 
of  that  time,  with  the  exception  of  Shakespeare.  He  spoke  to 
Charles  Lamb  and  to  myself,  who  were  supposed  by  many  to  be 
well  acquainted  with  those  ancient  writers.  I  lent  him  about  a 
dozen  volumes,  comprehending  the  finest  of  the  old  plays ;  and 
he  then  went  down  to  Winterslow  Hut,  in  Wiltshire,  and  after  a 
stay  of  six  weeks  came  back  to  London,  fully  impregnated  with 
the  subject,  with  his  thoughts  fully  made  up  upon  it,  and  with  all 
his  lectures  written.  And  he  then  appeared  to  comprehend  the 
character  and  merits  of  the  old  writers  more  thoroughly  than  any 
other  person,  although  he  had  so  lately  entered  upon  the  subject." 

In   1820  was  started  a  periodical  called  the  London  Magazine, 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxxi 

edited  by  Mr.  John  Scott,  formerly  editor  of  the  Champion,  a  man 
of  considerable  ability  and  fine  literary  tastes,  who  secured  as  con- 
tributors some  of  the  ablest  writers  of  the  day,  among  whom  were 
Hazlitt,  Lamb,  De  Quincey,  and  Allan  Cunningham,  and  a  year  or 
two  later,  Thomas  Carlyle,  whose  "  Life  of  Schiller "  first  appeared 
in  its  pages.  Lamb's  immortal  "Essays  of  Elia"  made  their  first 
appearance  in  this  magazine.  Hazlitt  contributed  to  it  about  a 
dozen  essays  during  the  first  two  years  of  its  existence.  Two  of  these 
essays  are  included  in  the  first  volume  of  Table- Talk,  or  Original 
Essays,  published  in  1821.  The  others  were  afterwards  included  in 
another  publication  of  Hazlitt's,  called  The  Plain  Speaker,  which  did 
not  appear  until  some  years  later.  A  second  volume  of  Table-Talk 
followed  in  1822,  and  a  second  edition  in  1824,  with  the  additional 
title  Original  Essays  on  Men  and  Manners.  Many  of  these  essays 
were  written  at  Winterslow  Hut  (spelled  Hutt),  a  coaching-inn  on 
the  border  of  Salisbury  Plain,  to  which  he  had  been  in  the  habit  of 
resorting  when  he  wished  to  get  away  from  London. 

This  solitary  and  desolately  situated  inn  will  always  be  re- 
membered with  interest  from  the  beautiful  allusion  to  it  in  his 
Literature  of  the  Age  of  Elizabeth,  when  speaking  of  the  old  drama- 
tists Decker  and  Webster.  The  passage  will  be  found  in  the  Selec- 
tions, p.  1 8  r.  It  was  his  favourite  haunt  when  he  wished  to  secure 
that  entire  solitude  and  seclusion  from  the  world  which  he  found 
so  favourable  to  thought  and  quiet  literary  work.  It  was  here 
that  he  drew  upon  his  recollections  of  books  and  pictures,  recalling 
what  he  had  observed  of  men  and  things,  probing  his  own  character 
unshrinkingly,  and  extracting  an  infinite  amount  of  self-knowledge 
from  his  own  infirmities.  It  was  here  he  would  wander  for  hours 
over  the  bare,  bleak  pasturages  and  among  the  scantily-wooded 
hollows,  and  get  home  to  his  inn,  miles  from  any  other  habitation, 
and  set  down  the  thoughts  that  had  come  to  him  on  his  solitary 
rambles,  making  the  whole  evening  hours  his  own  for  steady  and 
continuous  work.  Prompted  by  a  wish  to  see  this  memorable  resort 
of  Hazlitt's — a  wish  "  subdued  and  cherished  long  " — the  writer  of 
this  Memoir  at  last  realised  his  desire,  and  on  a  beautiful  spring 
day — May  Day  of  the  present  year — found  himself  at  Winterslow 
Hutt.  It  is  on  the  old  coach-road  between  London  and  Salisbury, 
and  near  the  sixth  milestone  from  that  cathedral  town.  In  the 
old  days,  before  railways,  the  London  coach  stopped  here  to  change 
horses,  and  the  traveller  could  find  good  cheer  and  accommoda- 
tion if  required.  Now  it  is  a  desolate  place,  fallen  into  decay, 


xxxii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

and  tenanted  by  a  labouring  man  and  his  family,  cultivating  a  small 
farm  of  some  thirty  acres  and  barely  able  to  make  a  living  out  of  it. 
In  winter  two  or  three  weeks  will  sometimes  elapse  without  even 
a  beggar  or  tramp  or  cart  passing  the  door.  On  the  ground-floor, 
looking  out  upon  a  horse-pond,  flanked  by  two  old  Hme-trees,  is  a 
little  parlour,  which  was  the  one  probably  used  by  Hazlitt  as  his 
sitting-room.  At  the  other  end  of  the  house  is  a  large  empty  room, 
formerly  devoted  to  cock-fighting  matches  and  singlestick  combats, 
in  which  he  who  first  brought  blood  from  his  adversary's  head 
was  pronounced  victor.  It  was  with  a  strange  and  eerie  feeling 
that  I  contemplated  this  little  parlour,  and  pictured  to  myself  the 
many  solitary  evenings  during  which  Hazlitt  sat  in  it,  enjoying 
copious  libations  of  his  favourite  beverage,  tea  (for  during  the  last 
fifteen  years  of  his  life  he  never  tasted  alcoholic  drinks  of  any  kind), 
perhaps  reading  "  Tom  Jones "  for  the  tenth  time,  or  enjoying  one 
of  Congreve's  comedies,  or  Eousseau's  "Confessions,"  or  writing, 
in  his  large  flowing  hand,  a  dozen  pages  of  the  essay  "  On  Persons 
one  would  Wish  to  have  Seen,"  or  "  On  Living  to  One's  Self."  One 
cannot  imagine  any  retreat  more  consonant  with  the  feelings  of  this 
lonely  thinker,  during  one  of  his  periods  of  seclusion,  than  the  out- 
of-the-world  place  in  which  I  stood.  In  winter-time  it  must  have 
been  desolate  beyond  description — on  wild  nights  especially, — 
"  heaven's  chancel-vault "  blind  with  sleet — the  fierce  wind  sweep- 
ing down  from  the  bare  wolds  around,  and  beating  furiously  against 
the  doors  and  windows  of  the  unsheltered  hostelry. 

The  essays  in  Table-Talk  contain  much  vigorous  thinking,  many 
fine  bursts  of  eloquence,  and  tender  reminiscences  of  past  days  and 
bygone  moods  of  mind.  It  is  almost  invidious  to  point  out  particular 
papers,  but  I  cannot  refrain  from  naming — "  On  Going  a  Journey," 
"  The  Love  of  Life,"  "  The  Fear  of  Death,"  "  On  People  with  One 
Idea,"  "Why  Distant  Objects  Please,"  "The  Past  and  Future," 
"The  Indian  Jugglers."  The  essay  "On  Living  to  One's  Self"  is 
in  his  best  manner,  and  is  steeped  in  intense  recollection  of  his  past 
life.  The  author's  own  early  aspirations  and  toils  after  eminence 
in  art  as  a  painter  are  gathered  up  and  embalmed  in  his  essay  "  On 
the  Pleasures  of  Painting,"  which  is  full  of  pathos  and  tender  beauty ; 
the  spirit  of  long-crushed  hope  breathes  throughout  its  pages. 

In  1820  Hazlitt's  father  died,  an  old  man  of  eighty -four.  His  son 
was  not  in  London  at  the  time,  and  his  habits  were  so  erratic  and 
his  movements  so  uncertain,  that  nobody  knew  where  to  address  him, 
and  he  thus  remained  in  ignorance  of  the  event  until  after  the 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxxiii 

funeral.  About  the  same  time,  Mrs.  Hazlitt  the  elder  lost  her 
mother,  at  the  extreme  age  of  ninety -nine.  Her  portrait  was  taken 
by  John  Hazlitt  when  she  was  ninety-six.  The  Rev.  Mr.  Hazlitt 
left  four  volumes  of  sermons.  He  was  a  correspondent  of  Dr. 
Priestley.  His  widow,  born  in  1746,  lived  to  witness  the  accession 
of  Queen  Victoria.  It  is  probable  that  Hazlitt  had  his  good  father 
in  his  mind  when  he  wrote  the  striking  passage,  beginning,  "  But 
we  have  known  some  such  in  happier  days,"  &c.  (see  Selections — 
"  Dissenting  Ministers,"  page  89.) 

The  reception  by  the  press  and  the  public  of  Hazlitt's  productions 
during  the  previous  few  years  was  highly  favourable.  An  exception, 
however,  must  be  made  in  the  case  of  Blackwood's  Magazine,  the 
Quarterly  Review  (then  edited  by  Gifford),  and  some  of  the  Govern- 
ment journals  of  the  period,  which  attacked  him  with  an  animosity 
and  unscrupulous  malignity  almost  incredible  to  the  present  genera- 
tion. His  crime  in  the  eyes  of  these  writers  was  that  he  was  an 
uncompromising  reformer,  and  that  in  some  of  his  political  effusions 
he  had  exposed  the  abuses  of  the  Government,  denouncing  things 
and  systems  to  which  he  was  conscientiously  opposed  in  terms  not 
to  be  mistaken.  Granted  that  his  political  sympathies  were  ardent 
and  the  expression  of  them  often  vehement,  and  that  he  had  taken 
the  unfashionable  side,  wilfully  placing  himself  from  the  first  in 
collision  with  all  the  interests  that  were  in  the  sunshine  of  the 
world,  and  with  all  the  persons  that  were  then  all-powerful  in 
England ;  surely  the  intrinsic  ability  of  his  purely  literary  works 
might  have  been  acknowledged  and  their  merits  admitted.  He 
himself  never  failed  to  do  justice  to  the  intellectual  gifts  of 
opponents,  however  keenly  he  may  have  attacked  their  political 
opinions  and  tergiversations.  Witness  what  he  always  said  of  the 
genius  of  such  men  as  Coleridge,  Wordsworth,  Southey,  and  Scott. 
It  is  never  without  a  sad  feeling,  akin  to  regret,  that  he  attacks 
what  he  considers  their  backslidings,  and  launches  against  them 
his  invective  and  sarcasm.  But  he  never  carried  poisoned  arrows 
into  political  conflict.  In  his  bitterest  remarks  upon  the  changed 
opinions  of  Coleridge  and  Wordsworth,  he  makes  you  feel  how 
much  they  were  once  rooted  in  his  affection,  and  that,  in  spite  of 
their  differences,  he  can  never  cease  to  admire  their  genius.  Such 
was  his  chivalrous  sense  of  honour  and  justice.  His  example  in 
this  respect  was  not  followed  by  his  enemies  and  assailants.  The 
merits  of  his  works  and  the  recognition  of  his  literary  powers  Vere 
systematically  ignored  by  the  writers  in  the  Government  interest, 

C 


xxxiv  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

and  the  author  was  deliberately  held  up  to  public  odium  and  dis- 
gust. He  was  denounced  as  an  incendiary,  a  Kadical,  a  Bonapartist, 
a  man  of  loose  morals,  and  a  Cockney  scribbler,  the  friend  and  com- 
panion of  Leigh  Hunt,  the  editor  of  the  Examiner,  who  was  always 
attacking  the  Government — a  man  equally  obnoxious  and  hateful. 
The  object  of  this  literary  ruffianism  was  to  disparage  the  writer 
and  prevent  the  public  from  reading  his  works.  These  shameless 
attacks  had  the  desired  effect  of  blighting  his  credit  with  the 
publishers  and  seriously  limiting  the  circulation  of  his  books,  and 
in  one  instance  entirely  stopping  the  sale  of  one  of  his  works  from 
the  day  on  which  the  malignant  article  appeared.  His  friend 
Leigh  Hunt  was  subjected  to  the  same  scandalous  treatment,  and 
with  similar  results.  The  public  mind  was  in  this  way  extensively 
poisoned  with  regard  to  these  two  writers  and  men  of  genius,  thus 
causing  a  much  tardier  recognition  of  their  merits  in  influential 
quarters  than  would  otherwise  have  been  the  case.  In  order  to 
justify  the  strong  expressions  used  by  me,  it  may  be  stated  that 
I  have  carefully  read  the  various  articles  referred  to,  and  could, 
if  necessary,  produce  a  selection  of  passages  which  would  stand 
unparalleled  in  the  annals  of  criticism  for  their  gross  violation 
of  the  laws  and  decencies  of  literary  warfare.  To  such  lengths  did 
party  feeling  go  in  those  days !  Let  us  rejoice  that  this  style  of 
criticism  has  gone  by,  never  to  return.  The  most  violent  political 
partisan  of  the  present  day  would  shrink  from  using  such  weapons. 
It  is  with  pleasure  I  record  the  fact  that  the  Quarterly  Review,  nearly 
fifty  years  after  the  date  of  these  attacks,  gave  utterance,  through 
the  pen  of  Bulwer,  to  a  most  generous  recognition  of  the  genius  of 
Hazlitt  and  Leigh  Hunt.  It  may  also  be  stated,  in  justice  to  Black- 
wood's  Magazine,  that,  fifteen  years  later,  Wilson  made  the  amende 
honorable  to  Hunt  in  a  graceful  and  touching  passage  in  one  of  the 
"  Noctes,"  the  concluding  words  of  which  were  :  "  The  animosities 
are  mortal,  the  humanities  live  for  ever."  He  even  invited  him  to 
write  for  the  Magazine  ;  but  Hunt  declined  the  offer. 

Mention  has  already  been  made  of  the  want  of  sympathy  between 
Hazlitt  and  his  wife,  and  of  the  qualities  and  peculiarities  in  each 
which  stood  in  the  way  of  their  domestic  happiness.  "Never," 
says  his  grandson,  "  was  there  a  worse-matched  pair.  If  they  had 
not  happened  to  marry,  if  they  had  continued  to  meet  at  the  Lambs', 
as  of  old,  or  at  her  brother's,  they  would  have  remained  probably 
the  best  of  friends.  She  would  have  appreciated  better  his  attain- 
ments and  genius,  .  .  .  but  there  was  a  sheer  want  of  sympathy 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxxv 

from  the  first  set-out.  They  married  after  studying  each  other's 
characters  very  little,  and  observing  very  little  how  their  tempers 
were  likely  to  harmonise.  ...  I  believe  that  Mr.  Hazlitt  was 
physically  incapable  of  giving  his  affections  to  a  single  object.  .  .  . 
His  wife  had  not  much  pretence  for  quarrelling  with  him  on  the 
ground  of  former  attachments  still  lingering  in  his  thoughts,  and 
keeping  his  affections  in  a  state  of  tangle,  for  she  too  had  had  her 
little  love  affairs,  and  accepted  him  only  when  her  other  suitors 
broke  faith."  This  want  of  sympathy  between  them  and  alienation 
of  feeling  kept  increasing,  and  their  uncomfortable  relations  grew 
more  and  more  distasteful  to  both.  For  some  time  they  had  been 
living  apart — he  often  by  himself  at  Winterslow  Hutt,  or  in  lodgings 
in  town. 

About  this  time  (1822)  he  became  the  subject  of  a  singular  and 
infatuated  attachment.  He  was  violently  smitten  with  the  beauty 
of  Sarah  Walker,  daughter  of  a  tailor  in  Southampton  Buildings, 
at  whose  house  he  lodged.  It  was  a  sort  of  frenzy  of  platonic 
devotion.  Hazlitt  was  in  a  state  of  hallucination  about  her 
beauty  and  moral  excellence.  The  amazing  thing  about  it  was 
that  his  insane  enthusiasm  so  over-mastered  him  and  carried  him 
off  his  balance,  that  he  could  not  help  speaking  about  it  to  every 
one  he  knew.  This  unfortunate  infatuation  took  entire  possession 
of  him,  and  he  was  completely  carried  away  by  it.  He  was  really 
in  a  condition  of  mind  in  which  he  could  scarcely  be  considered 
a  responsible  being.  His  son,  in  the  biographical  sketch  prefixed 
to  his  father's  "Literary  Eemains,"  speaks  of  the  divorce  of  his 
father  and  mother,  and  refers  to  the  painful  incident  of  this  infatu- 
ated attachment  in  the  following  sensible  words  : — "  It  was  in  1823 
that  a  circumstance  occurred,  the  influence  of  which  on  my  father's 
public  as  well  as  private  life  obliges  me  to  advert  to  it,  although 
other  reference  than  a  bare  record  of  the  fact  is  as  unnecessary 
to  the  reader  as  it  would  be  painful  to  me.  About  this  period, 
then,  my  father  and  mother  were  divorced  under  the  law  of 
Scotland.  Their  union  had  for  some  years  past  failed  to  produce 
that  mutual  happiness  which  was  its  object,  owing  in  great  measure 
to  an  imagined  and  most  unfounded  idea  on  my  father's  part  of 
a  want  of  sympathy  on  that  of  my  mother.  For  some  time  previous 
to  this  my  father  had  fallen  into  an  infatuation  which  he  has  him- 
self illustrated  in  glowing  and  eloquent  language  in  a  regretted 
publication  called  'Liber  Amoris.'  The  subject  is  a  painful  one, 
and  admits  of  but  one  cheerful  consolation — that  my  father's  name 


*xxvl  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

and  character  were  but  momentarily  dimmed  by  what  indeed  was 
but  a  momentary  delusion." 

The  book  referred  to  appeared  in  1823  under  the  title  of  Liber 
Amoris,  or  the  New  Pygmalion.  In  it  he  records  his  conversations  with 
this  imaginary  goddess  of  his  admiration,  who  in  the  eyes  of  every 
one  but  himself  was  a  very  common-place  person.  One  of  his  critics 
spoke  of  the  book  as  a  most  remarkable  psychological  curiosity,  and 
one  of  the  most  signal  examples  extant  of  the  power  of  a  genuine 
passion,  not  merely  to  palliate  what  was  wrong,  but  to  dignify  what 
was  ridiculous.  A  lady  critic  says  of  this  passage  in  Hazlitt's  life,  that 
"it  is  enough  that  no  vicious  or  sensual  man  could  have  fallen  into 
such  fascination,  nor  any  decently  hypocritical  one  have  proclaimed 
it."  De  Quincey  called  it  "  an  explosion  of  frenzy.  He  threw  out  his 
clamorous  anguish  to  the  clouds,  and  to  the  winds,  and  to  the  air  ; 
caring  not  who  might  listen,  who  might  sympathise,  or  who  might 
sneer—  the  sole  necessity  for  him  was  to  empty  his  over-burdened 
spirit."  A  philosophical  critic  of  the  book  calls  it  a  novelty  in  the 
English  language,  and  says  that  he  is  not  aware  of  the  publi- 
cation of  anything  so  vindicatory  of  the  ideal  theory  of  Berkeley 
— nothing  so  approaching  a  demonstration  that  mind  is  the  great 
creator,  and  matter  a  fable.  Mrs.  Jameson  has  a  very  eloquent 
passage  on  the  subject  in  one  of  her  volumes.  The  late  Lord 
Houghton  incidentally  expressed  his  great  admiration  of  the  book 
in  an  article  on  Keats  in  the  Fortnightly  Review.  Before  leaving 
this  painful  subject,  it  will  be  well  to  give  a  few  sentences  from 
the  pen  of  Bryan  Waller  Procter,  better  known  by  his  nom  de  plume 
Barry  Cornwall,  who  knew  Hazlitt  well,  met  him  at  this  time,  and 
who  had  seen  the  girl  at  his  (H.'s)  lodgings.  "  His  intellect  was 
completely  subdued  by  an  insane  passion.  He  was,  for  a  time, 
unable  to  think  or  talk  of  anything  else.  He  abandoned  criticism 
and  books  as  idle  matters,  and  fatigued  every  person  whom  he  met 
by  expressions  of  her  love,  of  her  deceit,  and  of  his  own  vehement 
disappointment.  This  was  when  he  lived  in  Southampton  Build- 
ings, Holborn.  Upon  one  occasion  I  know  that  he  told  the  story 
of  his  attachment  to  five  different  persons  in  the  same  day,  and  at 
each  time  entered  into  minute  details  of  his  love-story.  'I  am 

a  cursed  fool,'  said  he  to  me.     'I  saw  J going  into  "Wills' 

Coffee-house  yesterday  morning ;  he  spoke  to  me.  I  followed  him 
into  the  house,  and  whilst  he  lunched  I  told  him  the  whole  story. 
Then  I  wandered  into  the  Regent's  Park,  where  I  met  one  of 
M 's  sons.  I  walked  with  him  some  time,  and  on  his  using 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxxvii 

some  civil  expression,  by  Jove,  sir,  I  told  him  the  whole  story  ! ' 
[Here  he  mentioned  another  instance  which  I  forget.]  '  Well,  sir ' 
(he  went  on),  '  I  then  went  and  called  on  Haydon,  but  he  was  out. 
There  was  only  his  man,  Salmon,  there  ;  but  by  Jove  !  I  could  not 
help  myself.  It  all  came  out ;  the  whole  cursed  story.  Afterwards 
I  went  to  look  at  some  lodgings  at  Pimlico.  The  landlady  at  one 
place,  after  some  explanations  as  to  rent,  &c.,  said  to  me  very  kindly, 
"  I  am  afraid  you  are  not  well,  sir  ? "  "  No,  ma'am,"  said  I,  "  I  am 
not  well ; "  and  on  inquiring  further,  the  devil  take  me  if  I  did  not 
let  out  the  whole  story  from  beginning  to  end.'  I  used  to  see  this 
girl,  Sarah  Walker,  at  his  lodgings,  and  could  not  account  for  the 
extravagant  passion  of  her  admirer.  She  was  the  daughter  of  the 
lodging-house-keeper.  Her  face  was  round  and  small,  and  her  eyes 
were  motionless,  glassy,  and  without  any  speculation  (apparently) 
in  them.  Her  movements  in  walking  were  very  remarkable,  for 
I  never  observed  her  to  make  a  step.  She  went  onwards  in  a  sort 
of  wavy,  sinuous  manner,  like  the  movement  of  a  snake.  She  was 
silent,  or  uttered  monosyllables  only,  and  was  very  demure.  Her 
steady,  unmoving  gaze  upon  the  person  whom  she  was  addressing 
was  exceedingly  unpleasant.  The  Germans  would  have  extracted 
a  romance  from  her,  endowing  her  perhaps  with  some  diabolic 
attribute.  To  this  girl  he  gave  all  his  valuable  time,  all  his  wealth 
of  thought,  and  all  the  loving  frenzy  of  his  heart.  For  a  time  I 
think  that  on  this  point  he  was  substantially  insane — certainly 
beyond  self-control.  To  him  she  was  a  being  full  of  witchery,  full 
of  grace,  with  all  the  capacity  of  tenderness.  The  retiring  coquetry, 
which  had  also  brought  others  to  her,  invested  her  in  his  sight  with 
the  attractions  of  a  divinity."  I  have  not  given  any  extracts  from 
this  work,  as,  from  the  nature  of  its  contents,  it  would  be  impossible 
to  convey  a  correct  idea  of  it  by  detached  passages. 

With  regard  to  the  divorce  mentioned  by  his  son  in  the  extract 
given  above,  both  parties  went  to  Edinburgh,  swore  that  there  was  no 
collusion  between  them,  and,  after  considerable  delay,  obtained  their 
obj  ect.  A  detailed  account  of  the  whole  transaction,  including  extracts 
from  Mrs.  Hazlitt's  diary,  is  given  in  his  grandson's  Memoir.  It  is 
difficult  to  understand  how  the  affair  was  carried  through  with  so  much 
coolness,  and  how  husband  and  wife,  so  soon  to  be  divorced,  could  meet 
as  they  did  on  terms  of  apparent  friendship  ;  how  they  could  drink 
tea  together,  arrange  as  to  the  payment  of  her  expenses,  and  deal  with 
each  other,  all  through,  as  if  the  matter  about  which  they  had  met  in 
Edinburgh  was  one  of  the  most  ordinary  and  everyday  character. 


xxxviii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

In  1822-23  five  articles  by  Hazlitt  appeared  in  the  Liberal,  a  perio- 
dical started  by  Lord  Byron  and  Shelley,  and  to  which  Leigh  Hunt 
was  also  a  contributor.  It  only  extended  to  four  numbers.  Byron's 
"Vision  of  Judgment"  and  "Heaven  and  Earth,  a  Mystery,"  first 
appeared  in  it.  Hazlitt's  contributions  were  "My  First  Acquaintance 
with  Poets,"  "Arguing  in  a  Circle,"  "On  the  Scotch  Character," 
"Pulpit  Oratory — Chalmers  and  Irving,"  and  "On  the  Spirit  of 
Monarchy." 

In  1823  he  issued  a  little  volume  called  Characteristics  in  the 
Manner  of  Rochefoucauld's  Maxims.  The  book  is  less  known  than 
almost  any  of  his  writings.  Mr.  K.  H.  Home,  in  his  introductory 
remarks  to  the  second  edition  (1837),  says  that  it  contains  much  that 
is  cynical,  though  nothing  malevolent.  Some  of  his  most  bitter 
sarcasms  are  distinctly  levelled  at  himself.  In  his  most  cutting 
truths  it  is  a  striking  peculiarity  with  him  that  he  always  brings 
himself  in  for  his  full  share.  There  is  stuff  alone  in  this  little 
volume  to  make  a  reputation.  To  the  latest  edition  of  Charac- 
teristics, (1871),  are  added  "Common-Places,"  reprinted  from  Hunt's 
Literary  Examiner  (1823),  and  "Trifles  Light  as  Air"  from  the 
Atlas  newspaper  (1829). 

In  1824  Mr.  Hazlitt  contributed  to  the  seventh  edition  of  the 
Encyclopaedia  Britannica  an  article  on  The  Fine  Arts,  afterwards 
reprinted  with  the  title  Painting  and  the  Fine  Arts,  being  the 
articles  contributed  under  these  heads  to  the  seventh  edition  of  the 
Encyclopaedia  Britannica,  by  B.  R.  Haydon,  Esq.,  and  William 
Hazlitt,  Esq.  A  critic  writing  on  this  essay  says,  that  if  he  wished 
to  give  any  young  or  uninstructed  individual  a  correct  and  exalted 
idea  of  what  is  meant  by  the  term  "  The  Arts "  or  "  The  Fine 
Arts,"  he  would  simply  place  it  in  his  hands.  The  whole  tendency 
of  the  paper  is  to  show  that  the  perfection  attained  by  all  the  great 
masters  arose  from  the  study  of  the  nature  which  surrounded  them, 
and  not  from  that  imagined  improvement  upon  nature  which  has 
been  called  the  ideal. 

In  the  same  year,  1824,  appeared  Sketches  of  the  Principal  Picture- 
Galleries  in  England,  with  a  Criticism  on  "  Marriage-a-la-Mode."  In 
no  department  of  criticism  did  Hazlitt  write  with  more  insight, 
power,  and  picturesqueness  than  on  painting  and  pictures.  Leigh 
Hunt  considered  him  the  greatest  critic  on  art  that  ever  appeared 
("his  writings  on  that  subject  casting  a  light  like  a  painted 
window").  Some  of  the  opening  sketches  prefixed  to  his  descrip- 
tions of  the  galleries  of  Dulwich,  Stafford  House,  Burleigh,  and 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xxxix 

Blenheim  are  as  charming  as  the  best  pictures  they  celebrate.  The 
volume  is  full  of  beauties,  although  it  seems  to  be  written  carelessly, 
and  often  in  too  dazzling  language.  The  reader  will  find  in  it  his 
account  of  the  Cartoons  of  Eaphael,  of  Rembrandt's  picture  of 
Joseph's  Dream,  his  estimate  of  Holbein,  of  Poussin,  and  Watteau. 
His  description  of  the  Stafford  Collection  is  prefaced  by  some 
striking  observations  on  the  duration  of  works  of  art.  In  his 
account  of  the  pictures  at  Burleigh  House  there  is  a  passage  redolent 
with  associations  of  the  past,  and  embodying  his  recollections  of  a 
visit  twenty  years  before,  which  may  be  'pointed  out  as  one  of  the 
most  tender  and  eloquent  he  ever  wrote.  It  is  only  one  of  several 
to  be  found  in  this  volume.  It  may  be  here  mentioned  that  a 
volume  containing  almost  all  that  Hazlitt  has  written  on  the  Fine 
Arts,  including  his  sketches  of  the  English  Picture-Galleries,  has 
been  edited  by  his  grandson,  Mr.  W.  C.  Hazlitt,  and  published  by 
Messrs.  Eeeves  &  Turner. 

Having  got  rid  of  his  wife  by  divorce,  according  to  the  law  of 
Scotland  in  those  days,  and  having  recovered  from  his  mad  infa- 
tuation for  his  lodging-house-keeper's  daughter,  who,  it  is  almost 
superfluous  to  say,  not  long  afterwards  married  a  younger  and  less 
imaginative  lover,  he  astonished  his  family  and  friends  by  very  soon 
making  a  second  marriage.  In  one  of  his  many  journeyings  from 
and  to  London  he  made  the  acquaintance  in  a  coach  of  a  lady  with 
some  property,  named  Bridgwater.  It  is  not  reported  how  much 
time  elapsed  between  the  first  meeting  and  their  marriage,  but  the 
latter  took  place  in  the  first  half  of  1824.  In  August  of  the  same 
year  they  started  on  a  trip  to  the  Continent,  during  which  his  son, 
then  a  lad  of  about  fourteen  or  fifteen,  joined  them.  For  some 
months  they  travelled  about,  visiting  Paris,  Turin,  Florence,  Rome, 
Venice,  Milan,  Geneva,  and  by  the  Rhine  to  Holland.  During  this 
tour  he  had  opportunities  of  studying  the  Italian  masters,  and 
described  them,  as  well  as  the  places  he  visited,  in  a  series  of  letters 
to  the  Morning  Chronicle.  He  returned  to  London  without  his  wife, 
who  never  afterwards  rejoined  him.  Those  who  might  be  expected 
to  give  any  information  as  to  the  cause  of  this  abrupt  termination 
of  the  brief  period  of  his  second  married  life  are  silent,  and  we  are 
left  to  form  our  own  conclusions.  All  we  are  told  by  Mr.  "W.  C. 
Hazlitt  is  this  :  "  Mr.  Hazlitt  and  his  son  returned  home  alone.  Mrs. 
Hazlitt  had  stopped  behind.  At  the  end  of  a  fortnight  he  wrote  to 
her,  asking  her  when  he  should  come  to  fetch  her  ;  and  the  answer 
which  he  got  was  that  she  had  proceeded  to  Switzerland  with  her 


xl  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

sister,  and  that  they  had  parted  for  ever."  A  writer  on  Hazlitt — 
Mr.  Saintsbury — says  very  justly  of  this  matter,  "  When  a  man  with 
such  antecedents  marries  a  woman  of  whom  no  one  has  anything 
bad  to  say,  lives  with  her  for  a  year,  chiefly  on  her  money,  and  is 
then  quitted  by  her  with  the  information  that  she  will  have  nothing 
more  to  do  with  him,  it  is  not,  I  think,  uncharitable  to  conjecture 
that  most  of  the  fault  is  his." 

The  letters  he  wrote  while  on  his  journey  were  published  the 
following  year  (1826)  in  a  volume  entitled  Notes  of  a  Journey  in 
France  and  Italy.  This  memorial  of  travel  is  full  of  enjoyment, 
observation,  and  thought.  His  conversation  was  described  by  one 
who  fell  in  with  him  on  the  journey  as  being  better  than  any  book 
on  the  art  pictorial  he  had  ever  read.  His  local  descriptions — 
the  passage  across  the  Alps,  his  sketches  of  Swiss  and  Italian 
scenery,  of  Eome,  Venice,  and  the  Italian  cities — are  conspicuous 
for  their  vividness.  The  productions  of  some  of  the  great  Italian 
masters  are  criticised  with  his  usual  skill  and  felicity.  The 
opinions  of  a  man  so  eminently  qualified  to,  judge  in  such  matters 
were  read  with  attention  and  interest.  This  volume  has  never  been 
reprinted. 

We  get  a  glimpse  of  Hazlitt  during  this  journey  in  a  forgotten 
article  in  an  early  volume  of  Fraser's  Magazine  (March  1839).  It  is 
written  by  Captain  Medwin,  the  friend  and  biographer  of  Shelley. 
The  article  is  entitled  "  Hazlitt  in  Switzerland :  A  Conversation." 
Medwin,  who  does  not  tell  us  how  he  came  to  meet  Hazlitt,  begins  by 
saying  that  he  found  him  living  in  a  cottage  near  Vevay,  on  the  Lake 
of  Geneva.  He  describes  him  as  by  no  means  striking  in  appearance, 
though  not  unprepossessing — his  dress  neglected,  his  face  unshaven. 
His  countenance  bore  the  marks  of  intense  application,  and  there 
was  such  a  habitual  expression  of  melancholy,  as  though  he  was 
brooding  over  past  miseries  or  indulging  in  hopeless  views  of  the 
future.  His  figure  was  emaciated  and  his  vital  energy  apparently 
very  low.  His  body  seemed  only  a  tenement  for  spirit.  A  con- 
versation ensued,  the  substance  of  which  is  given  in  five  or  six 
pages.  It  was  about  Byron,  Scott,  Shakespeare,  and  other  literary 
topics.  At  its  conclusion  he  entered  into  a  long  history  of  his 
own  literary  wrongs,  his  neglect  by  the  public,  and  his  bitter  per- 
secution by  the  reviewers.  The  chord,  thus  touched,  vibrated  in 
every  nerve,  and  he  spoke  for  half  an  hour  with  much  rapidity,  and 
with  an  attempt  at  times  to  suppress  his  feelings,  which  was*  dis- 
tressing to  both.  At  last,  working  himself  up  into  a  fury,  he  poured 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xli 

forth  the  fiercest  diatribes  against  his  assailants.  Medwin  tried  to 
calm  him,  and  then  took  his  leave. 

In  1824  he  prepared  a  volume,  Selections  from  the  English  Poets. 
In  this  he  was  assisted  by  Lamb  and  Procter.  Some  poets  (chiefly 
living),  whose  works  were  copyright,  were  included  in  the  collection. 
An  injunction  being  threatened,  the  volume  was  withdrawn  from 
sale.  A  few,  however,  got  into  circulation,  one  of  which  is  in  my 
possession.  In  its  original  form,  it  extended  to  822  royal  octavo 
double  columns.  It  was  issued  in  1825  with  a  new  title  and  frontis- 
piece, and  consisted  of  562  pages,  with  his  name  on  the  title-page. 
The  authors  not  included  in  the  re-issue  are  Eogers,  Campbell, 
Bloomfield,  Crabbe,  Coleridge,  Wordsworth,  Southey,  Scott,  Lamb, 
Montgomery,  Byron,  Moore,  Hunt,  Shelley,  Thurlow,  Keats,  Milman, 
Bowles,  and  Barry  Cornwall.  The  selections  are  preceded  by  brief, 
pithy,  and  comprehensive  paragraphs,  describing  the  characteristics 
of  each  poet.  In  his  preface  he  says  :  "  I  have  made  it  my  aim  to 
exhibit  the  characteristic  and  striking  features  of  English  poetry 
and  English  genius  ;  and  with  this  view  have  endeavoured  to  give 
such  specimens  from  each  author  as  showed  his  peculiar  powers  of 
mind,  and  the  peculiar  style  in  which  he  excelled." 

In  1825  was  published  in  one  volume  The  Spirit  of  the  Age,  or 
Contemporary  Portraits.  This  work  is  regarded  by  some  of  Hazlitt's 
critics  as  his  best — the  most  matured  in  thought,  the  most  impar- 
tial and  deliberate  in  judgment,  and  the  most  finished  in  style. 
One  calls  it  "  The  Harvest  Home  "  of  his  mind  ;  another  says  that  in 
the  delicate  discrimination  of  the  finer  shades  of  character,  and  in 
those  evanescent  forms  of  expression  which  an  inferior  artist  might 
in  vain  attempt  to  catch,  he  is  the  Clarendon  of  his  age.  He  gives 
portraits  of  Coleridge,  Scott,  Wordsworth,  Byron,  Brougham,  and 
a  dozen  more  of  his  distinguished  contemporaries,  both  political  and 
literary.  The  portrait  of  Byron  is  a  masterpiece  of  analysis  of  that 
poet's  wayward  genius  and  character.  The  character  of  Cobbett, 
considered  by  many  of  Hazlitt's  admirers  as  one  of  the  best  pieces 
he  ever  wrote,  and  which  originally  appeared  in  Table-Talk  in  1820, 
is  not  given  in  the  first  edition  of  The  Spirit  of  the  Age,  but  appears 
in  the  third,  edited  by  his  son,  1835,  an(^  in  subsequent  editions. 

The  Plain-Speaker ;  Opinions  on  Books,  Men,  and  Things,  2  vols., 
1826,  was  the  next  work  which  he  gave  to  the  public.  These  essays 
present  a  great  variety  of  subjects  discussed  in  Hazlitt's  best  manner. 
The  titles  of  some  of  them  have  only  to  be  named  to  whet  the 
appetite  of  the  reader.  "  Whether  Genius  is  Conscious  of  its  Powers," 


xlii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

"  On  Application  to  Study,"  "  On  Reading  Old  Books,"  "  On  People 
of  Sense,"  "  On  Depth  and  Superficiality,"  "  On  Personal  Character," 
"  On  the  Qualifications  Necessary  to  Success  in  Life,"  and  many  more. 
The  volume  includes  the  most  of  the  articles  he  contributed  to  the 
London  Magazine  in  1820  and  1821.  Talfourd  has  pronounced  these 
as  well  as  most  his  previous  essays  "  to  differ  not  so  much  in  degree 
as  in  kind  from  that  of  all  others  of  their  class.  There  is  a  weight 
and  substance  about  them  which  makes  us  feel  that,  amidst  all  their 
dexterous  analysis,  they  are  in  no  small  measure  creations.  The 
quantity  of  thought  which  is  accumulated  upon  his  favourite 
subjects,  the  variety  and  richness  of  the  illustrations,  and  the 
strong  sense  of  beauty  and  pleasure  which  pervades  and  animates 
the  composition,  give  them  a  place,  if  not  above,  yet  apart  from, 
the  writings  of  all  other  essayists.  They  have  not,  indeed,  the 
dramatic  charm  of  the  old  Spectator  and  Tatler,  nor  the  airy  touch 
with  which  Addison  and  Steele  skimmed  along  the  surface  of 
many-coloured  life ;  but  they  disclose  the  subtle  essence  of  char- 
acter, and  trace  the  secret  springs  of  the  affections,  with  a  more 
learned  and  penetrating  spirit  of  human  dealing  than  either  of  these 
essayists." 

The  work  above  described  was  the  last  collection  of  essays  given 
by  Mr.  Hazlitt  to  the  public.  His  son  afterwards  gathered  together 
and  published  two  volumes  of  essays  contributed  to  various  perio- 
dicals, and  not  included  in  Table- Talk  or  The  Plain- Speaker.  They 
will  be  found  indispensable  companions  to  these  collections.  It  is 
well,  therefore,  to  give  a  brief  account  of  these  before  proceeding  to 
describe  the  last  two  works  from  his  pen,  his  Conversations  with 
Northcote  and  the  Life  of  Napoleon.  The  two  collections  of  essays 
referred  to  are  entitled  Sketches  and  Essays,  now  first  collected  by  his 
son,  1839;  Winterslow;  Essays  and  Characters,  written  there,  collected 
by  his  son,  1850.  In  these  two  volumes  will  be  found  his  memorable 
paper,  "  My  First  Acquaintance  with  Poets  "  (which,  in  its  complete 
form,  first  appeared  in  "  The  Liberal "  in  1823),  his  brilliant  record  of 
a  conversation  at  one  of  Lamb's  evenings,  under  the  title  "Of  Persons 
One  would  Wish  to  have  Seen,"  and  the  touching  essays  entitled 
"On  a  Sun-Dial"  and  "A  Farewell  to  Essay- Writing,"  written 
at  Winterslow  Hutt  in  1828.  There  are  also  included  his  characters 
of  Burke,  Fox,  Pitt,  and  Chatham,  written  in  his  earlier  days,  and 
reprinted  from  The  Eloquence  of  the  British  Senate.  Besides  those 
named,  there  are  twenty-seven  other  essays,  each  stamped  with  the 
mint-mark  of  his  genius,  and  which  will  be  welcome  to  all  lovers 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xliii 

of  English  literature.  Indeed,  these  two  volumes  include  specimen*) 
of  Hazlitt  as  an  essayist  at  his  very  best.  In  them  we  recognise 
the  familiar  hand  of  the  acute,  wilful,  unselfish,  benevolent  philo- 
sopher, his  unfailing  sympathy  with  mankind  at  large,  doing  justice 
to  the  good  as  well  as  bad  sides  of  a  question,  and  heartily  relishing 
beauty  and  genius  wherever  he  found  them, — enemies  not  excepted. 
It  may  here  be  stated  that  in  Hazlitt's  Literary  Remains,  edited  by 
his  son,  1836,  will  be  found  several  essays  not  included  in  either  of 
the  posthumous  volumes  named,  nor  in  any  of  those  published 
during  Hazlitt's  lifetime.  Among  these  is  the  memorable  article 
"  The  Fight,"  describing  the  pugilistic  encounter  between  Hickman 
and  Neate  in  1822  with  marvellous  vividness,  and  with  an  apparent 
skill  which  would  almost  make  one  suppose  that  Hazlitt  was  an 
"old  hand"  in  that  line, — a  professional  describer  of  prize-fights 
for  a  sporting  newspaper.  I  have  been  advised  not  to  reprint  this 
paper,  but  Hazlitt  must  be  shown  in  every  phase  ;  an  ardent  admirer 
pronounces  it  his  chef-d'oeuvre. 

In  1827  Hazlitt  contributed  an  article  to  the  Examiner  entitled 
"The  Dandy  School."  It  was  written  soon  after  the  appearance 
of  "Vivian  Grey"  (not  then  published  with  Disraeli's  name  as 
author),  about  which  the  fashionable  world  was  then  in  ecstasies  of 
admiration.  As  this  article  has  never  been  reprinted,  it  is  deserv- 
ing of  notice  here.  In  it  he  exposed  the  low  aims  of  the  novelist 
in  his  usual  incisive  style,  indignantly  protested  against  the  degrada- 
tion of  the  functions  of  literature  by  such  writers  as  the  author  of 
"Vivian  Grey"  and  Theodore  Hook,  and  treated  with  wholesome 
scorn  the  views  of  life  and  society  embodied  in  the  adventures 
and  conversations  of  their  tuft-hunting  heroes. 

In  1826-27  a  series  of  articles  under  the  title  of  "Boswell 
Kedivivus  "  appeared  in  the  New  Monthly  Magazine.  These  articles 
consist  of  a  record  of  conversations  with  Mr.  Northcote,  the  painter, 
then  about  eighty  years  of  age,  whom  Hazlitt  had  known  so  far 
back  as  1802  through  his  brother  John.  Northcote  was  a  shrewd 
observer,  and  had  seen  and  heard  a  great  deal  in  the  world  of  art 
and  literature.  He  had  great  vivacity,  plenty  of  anecdote,  and  many 
recollections  of  people  whom  he  had  known.  These  attractions 
drew  Hazlitt  frequently  to  his  studio.  He  was  generally  considered 
an  ill-conditioned,  malevolent,  and  unamiable  man,  and  it  is  rather 
singular  that  Hazlitt  had  so  strong  a  relish  for  his  society.  He 
says  :  "  The  person  whose  doors  I  enter  with  most  pleasure,  and  quit 
with  the  most  regret,  never  did  me  the  smallest  favour.  I  once  did 


xliv  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

him  an  uncalled-for  service,  and  we  nearly  quarrelled  about  it.  If 
I  were  in  the  utmost  distress,  I  should  just  as  soon  think  of  asking 
his  assistance  as  of  stopping  a  person  on  the  highway.  Practical 
benevolence  is  not  his  forte.  .  .  .  His  hand  is  closed ;  but  what  of 
that  ?  His  eye  is  ever  open,  and  reflects  the  universe.  His  silver 
accents,  beautiful,  venerable  as  his  silver  hairs,  but  not  scanted,  flow 
as  a  river.  I  never  ate  or  drank  in  his  house  ;  nor  do  I  know  or 
care  how  the  flies  or  spiders  fare  in  it,  or  whether  a  mouse  can  get 
a  living.  But  I  know  that  I  can  get  there  what  I  can  get  nowhere 
else — a  welcome,  as  if  one  was  expected  to  drop  in  just  at  that 
moment,  a  total  absence  of  all  respect  of  persons,  and  of  airs  of 
self -consequence,  refined  thoughts,  made  more  striking  by  ease  and 
simplicity  of  manner — the  husk,  the  shell  of  humanity  is  left  at 
the  door,  and  the  spirit,  mellowed  by  time,  resides  within !  .  .  .  I 
asked  leave  to  write  down  one  or  two  of  these  conversations ;  he 
said  I  might  if  I  thought  it  worth  while ;  '  but,'  he  said,  '  I  do 
assure  you  that  you  overrate  them.  You  have  not  lived  long 
enough  in  society  to  be  a  judge.'  ...  I  have  generally  taken  him 
as  my  lay-figure  or  model,  and  worked  upon  it,  selon  mon  gr^  by 
fancying  how  he  would  express  himself  on  any  occasion,  and  making 
up  a  conversation  according  to  this  preconception  in  my  mind.  I 
have  also  introduced  little  incidental  details  that  never  happened  ; 
thus,  by  lying,  giving  a  greater  air  of  truth  to  the  scene — an  art 
understood  by  most  historians  !  In  a  word,  Mr.  Northcote  is  only 
answerable  for  the  wit,  sense,  and  spirit  there  may  be  in  these 
papers ;  I  take  all  the  dulness,  the  impertinence,  and  malice  upon 
myself.  He  has  furnished  the  text.  I  fear  I  have  often  spoiled  it 
by  the  commentary."  We  are  told  by  Mr.  Patmore  that  in  one  of 
these  conversations  Hazlitt  reported  something  which  Northcote 
said  should  not  have  been  printed.  Northcote  was  furious,  and 
spoke  of  Hazlitt  as  "  the  diabolical  Hazlitt,"  and  wrote  indignantly 
to  the  editor  of  the  New  Monthly,  in  which  the  articles  were  appear- 
ing. The  editor  replied  that  Hazlitt  should  never  again  write  in 
the  Magazine.  Notwithstanding  this  explosion,  they  continued  to 
meet  as  before,  the  latter  taking  notes  with  Northcote's  knowledge, 
and  the  conversations  continuing  to  appear  in  the  Magazine.  These 
conversations  contain  much  fine  thought  and  practical  wisdom ; 
many  of  the  thoughts  are  strikingly  original.  The  respective  shares 
of  author  and  artist  are  not  always  easy  to  determine.  It  was  saiJ. 
by  one  critic  of  these  conversations  that  all  the  ill-nature  in  the 
book  is  Northcote's,  and  all,  or  almost  all,  the  talent  Hazlitt's. 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xlv 

The  work  was  not  published  in  volume  form  until  1830.  Its  title 
is  Conversations  of  James  Northcote,  Esq.,  R.A.  In  the  same  year 
was  issued  The  Life  of  Titian;  with  Anecdotes  of  the  Distinguished 
Persons  of  his  Time,  by  James  Northcote,  Esq.,  R.A.  Although  this 
work  bears  the  name  of  Mr.  Northcote  on  its  title-page,  the  material 
furnished  by  him  was  of  a  very  unconnected  kind,  and  only  made 
available  (with  the  addition  of  a  great  many  notes)  by  Hazlitt's 
manipulation.  To  swell  out  the  work  into  two  volumes,  a  trans- 
lation of  Ticozzi's  Life  of  Titian,  by  Hazlitt  and  his  son,  was  intro- 
duced. 

It  now  remains  to  speak  of  his  last  and  largest  work,  The  Life  of 
Napoleon  Buonaparte,  4  vols.  Vols.  I.  and  II.  1828.  Vols.  III.  and 
IV.  1830.  New  edition,  revised  by  his  son,  4  vols.  1852.  This  Life 
had  loomed  before  his  view  for  many  years,  and  he  meant  it  to  be  a 
monumental  work.  During  1827  he  worked  upon  his  cherished 
task  at  Winterslow  Hutt.  The  first  volume  and  the  greater  part 
of  the  second  were  finished  and  ready  for  printing,  when  he  was 
taken  ill,  and  had  to  return  to  London  for  medical  advice.  In  the 
following  year  the  first  two  volumes  were  issued,  and  the  author 
went  on  perseveringly  with  the  remaining  two  volumes.  His 
strength  was  visibly  declining,  and  he  was  anxious  to  complete  his 
task.  We  are  told  that  the  finishing  touches  were  put  to  the  last 
two  volumes  under  the  roof  of  Mr.  Whiting,  the  printer,  of  Beaufort 
House,  in  the  Strand.  The  concluding  volumes  were  sent  forth  to 
the  public  in  1830.  The  sale  of  the  first  two  volumes  had  not  been 
encouraging.  Coming  after  Sir  Walter  Scott's  work  on  the  same 
subject  was  a  serious  disadvantage,  and  interfered  with  the  success 
of  the  book.  He  was  to  have  received  ^500  for  the  copyright,  but 
his  publisher's  affairs  became  involved,  and  the  result  was  that  he 
received  no  recompense  for  this  laboriously  and  conscientiously  per- 
formed work.  This  led  to  a  pecuniary  crisis,  disastrous  in  its  issue 
to  Hazlitt,  bringing  with  it  the  greatest  inconvenience  and  annoyance. 
His  health  and  spirits  suffered  much  under  this  misfortune.  In  the 
beginning  of  1830  he  removed  to  6  Frith  Street,  Soho,  and  there  he 
was  threatened  with  a  recurrence  of  his  previous  serious  illness. 
The  Preface,  which  he  intended  to  appear  at  the  commencement  of 
the  Life,  was  for  some  reason  or  other  omitted,  but  it  found  a  place 
at  the  beginning  of  the  third  volume — not  standing  by  itself,  but 
incorporated  with  and  forming  part  of  the  text.  He  himself, 
writing  about  this  Preface,  says  in  a  letter  to  Mr.  Charles  Cowden 
Clarke  :  "  In  Paris  the  Preface  was  thought  a  masterpiece,  the  best 


xlvi  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

and  only  possible  defence  of  Buonaparte,  and  quite  new  there." 
Talfourd,  in  his  "Thoughts  upon  the  Intellectual  Character  of 
William  Hazlitt,"  devotes  several  pages  to  an  ingenious  explanation 
of  his  admiration  of  Napoleon.  One  of  Hazlitt's  reasons  for  justifying 
this  predilection  to  himself  was  no  doubt  the  revolutionary  origin  of 
his  hero,  and  the  contempt  with  which  he  trampled  upon  the  claims 
of  legitimacy  and  humbled  the  pride  of  kings  ;  but  Talfourd  points 
out  other  reasons,  arising  from  the  constitution  of  Hazlitt's  mind, 
which  help  us  to  understand  this  idolatrous  worship.  He  does  not 
speak  with  unqualified  admiration  of  the  work.  He  considers  it 
as  often  confused  and  spiritless,  although  "redeemed  by  scattered 
thoughts  of  true  originality  and  depth,"  and  descriptions,  "written  with 
a  master's  hand,"  such  as  that  of  the  disastrous  retreat  from  Moscow. 
At  times  "  the  author's  strength  becomes  concentrated,  his  narrative 
assumes  an  epic  dignity  and  fervour,  and  glows  with  'the  long- 
resounding  march  and  energy  divine.' "  Mr.  Fonblanque,  one  of  the 
most  acute  of  our  political  writers,  and  whose  judgments  are  always 
characterised  by  discrimination  and  fairness,  in  a  review  of  this 
work  in  the  Examiner,  says,  "  With  respect  to  the  narrative,  it  is 
rapid,  spontaneous,  and  abounding  with  the  mental  touches  which 
so  peculiarly  distinguish  this  writer ;  although  it  certainly  wants 
something  of  form  and  due  digestion  regarded  as  the  record  of  a 
series  of  great  actions  and  important  events.  To  Napoleon,  as  a  man 
of  commanding  intellect,  Mr.  Hazlitt  will,  by  some,  be  considered 
too  favourable.  It  is  much  to  say,  however,  that  in  no  instance 
does  he  spare  him  when  either  his  grand  characteristics  or  his 
passions  bring  him  into  opposition  to  the  great  cause  of  liberty  or 
the  general  benefit  of  mankind.  .  .  .  There  is  a  noble  and  eloquent 
exposition  of  the  inevitable  results  of  a  free  press,  which  is  admi- 
rably demonstrative  of  the  utter  inability,  from  the  constitution 
and  nature  of  the  human  mind,  of  an  eternal  resistance  on  the 
part  of-  oppression  and  tyranny  to  the  operation  of  the  interchange 
of  ideas  which  it  produces.  .  .  .  We  will  venture  to  assert  that  this 
work  displays  a  deeper  insight  into  the  sources  and  principles  of 
morals  and  politics,  in  brief,  rapid,  and  lightning  glances — often  as 
it  were  en  passant — than  nine  out  of  ten  of  the  formal  treatises  which 
are  regarded  as  profound  authority.  We  would  rather,  for  instance, 
be  the  author  of  the  remarks  therein  on  the  character  of  Robespierre 
and  the  Reign  of  Terror,  than  of  the  whole  of  Burke's  great  and 
high-wrought  work." 

Before  concluding  the  record  of  Hazlitt's  works,  I  may  direct 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xlvii 

attention  to  two  papers  of  his,  hitherto  unreprinted,  which  appeared 
the  year  after  his  death.  They  may  be  of  interest  to  those  who  wish 
to  know  his  opinion  on  the  subjects  discussed,  viz.,  "  The  Punishment 
of  Death  "  and  "  The  Emancipation  of  the  Jews."  The  latter  will  be 
found  in  the  Taller,  March  28,  1831,  and  the  former  in  Fraser's 
Magazine,  January  1831.  I  may  also  add  that  two  articles  from 
his  pen  were  written  a  few  months  before  his  death,  and  appeared 
in  the  New  Monthly  Magazine.  They  were  entitled  "  The  Free 
Admission"  and  "The  Sick  Chamber."  The  latter  will  be  found 
in  the  following  Selections  ;  they  have  not  been  included  in  any  of 
the  volumes  of  his  collected  Essays. 

Pecuniary  anxieties  and  disappointments  bore  heavily  upon 
him  during  1830,  and  he  grew  gradually  feebler.  The  stirring 
events  in  France  in  July  of  that  year  seemed  to  give  him  new 
life  for  a  while,  and  came  to  him  in  his  shattered  condition 
like  a  sudden  and  unexpected  gleam  of  sunshine.  By  the  tender 
care  of  some  of  his  friends  he  seemed  to  rally  slightly  at  times,  but 
in  the  course  of  the  summer  he  grew  weaker  and  worse.  Still  he 
was  able  to  think  and  write  a  little.  His  grandson  tells  us  that  he 
composed  a  paper  on  "  Personal  Politics,"  in  view  of  the  then  recent 
deposition  of  Charles  X.  and  the  overthrow  of  the  Bourbon  dynasty. 
It  was  something  to  have  lived  to  see  that.  "I  saw  him  (once 
only),"  says  his  friend  Procter,  "as  he  lay,  ghastly,  shrunk,  and 
helpless,  on  the  bed  from  which  he  never  afterwards  rose.  His 
mind  seemed  to  have  weathered  all  the  danger  of  extreme  sickness, 
and  to  be  safe  and  as  strong  as  ever.  But  the  physical  portion  had 
endured  sad  decay.  He  could  not  lift  his  hand  from  the  coverlet ; 
and  his  voice  was  changed,  and  diminished  to  a  hoarse  whistle, 
resembling  the  faint  scream  that  I  have  heard  from  birds.  I  never 
was  so  sensible  of  the  power  of  Death  before."  All  through  the 
month  of  August  he  was  struggling  with  death.  He  seemed  to  live 
on  "  by  a  pure  act  of  volition."  He  asked  those  who  were-  with 
him  to  fetch  his  mother  to  him,  that  he  might  see  her  once  more 
before  he  died.  But  this  was  impossible ;  she  was  in  Devonshire 
and  eighty-four  years  of  age.  His  old  and  ever-dear  friend,  Charles 
Lamb,  was  beside  him  at  the  close,  on  the  i8th  of  September.  The 
end  was  so  peaceful,  that  his  son,  who  was  sitting  by  his  bedside,  did 
not  know  that  he  had  passed  away  till  the  breathing  had  ceased  for 
a  moment  or  two.  The  last  words  he  uttered  were,  "  Well,  I've  had 
a  happy  life."  Let  it  be  recorded  to  the  honour  of  Francis  Jeffrey 
that  he  sent  Hazlitt  ^50,  in  reply  to  an  application  made  from  hia 


xlviii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

sick-bed,  but  the  kind  gift  did  not  arrive  until  after  his  death.  Mr. 
R.  H.  Home  says  that  those  who  nursed  him  and  cared  for  him 
during  his  last  illness  were  Charles  Lamb,  Mr.  Patmore  (father  of 
the  poet),  and  Mr.  Basil  Montagu.  "  I  brought  an  Italian  artist,  who 
took  an  admirable  plaster  cast  from  Hazlitt's  face  and  the  upper  part 
of  his  head.  The  countenance  was  grandly  taken.  It  had  a  latent 
smile,  not  unlike  that  which  gradually  dawns  upon  one  after  gazing 
for  a  time  at  some  faces  of  the  Egyptian  sculptures."  Wells,  the 
author  of  "  Joseph  and  his  Brethren,"  went  with  Home  to  see  the 
body.  He  had  at  one  time  been  intimate  with  Hazlitt.  He  after- 
wards raised  a  tablet  to  his  memory  in  the  Church  of  St.  Anne's, 
Soho,  where  he  lies  buried.  The  inscription  on  the  tablet  is  a  long 
one,  and  will  be  found  in  the  "  Literary  Remains." 

"  When  Hazlitt  died,"  said  Bulwer,  "  he  left  no  successor  ;  others 
may  equal  him,  but  none  resemble.  I  confess  that  few  deaths  of  the 
great  writers  of  my  time  ever  affected  me  more  painfully  than  his. 
For  of  most  of  those  who,  with  no  inferior  genius,  have  gone  before 
him,  it  may  be  said  that  in  their  lives  they  tasted  the  sweets  of  their 
immortality,  they  had  their  consolations  of  glory  ;  and  if  fame  can 
atone  for  the  shattered  nerve,  the  jaded  spirit,  the  wearied  heart  of 
those  '  who  scorn  delight  and  live  laborious  days,'  verily  they  have 
their  reward.  But  Hazlitt  went  down  to  the  dust  without  having 
won  the  crown  for  which  he  so  bravely  struggled ;  his  reputation, 
great  amongst  limited  circles,  was  still  questionable  to  the  world. 
He  who  had  done  so  much  for  the  propagation  of  thought,  from 
whose  wealth  so  many  had  filled  their  coffers,  left  no  stir  on  the 
surface  from  which  he  sank  to  the  abyss.  ...  A  great  man  sinking 
amidst  the  twilight  of  his  own  renown,  after  a  brilliant  and  un- 
clouded race,  if  a  solemn,  is  an  inspiring  and  elating  influence.  But 
Nature  has  no  sight  more  sad  and  cheerless  than  the  sun  of  a  genius 
which  the  clouds  have  so  long  and  drearily  overcast,  that  there 
are  few  to  mourn  and  miss  the  luminary  when  it  sinks  from  the 
horizon." 

HAZLITT  AS  A  CRITIC  AND  ESSAYIST. 

As  a  critic  and  essayist,  Hazlitt  takes  a  deservedly  high  place  in 
English  literature.  His  writings  bear  upon  them  the  impress  of  a 
vigorous  and  original  genius.  They  are  characterised  by  genuine 
eloquence  and  fine  perception  of  every  kind  of  beauty,  by  sincerity 
and  earnestness,  and  for  the  most  part,  when  disturbing  influences 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  xlix* 

were  not  present,  by  an  unerring  critical  judgment ;  and  at  times 
his  page  sparkles  with  epigrammatic  brilliancy.  His  thoughts  are 
expressed  in  vigorous,  idiomatic,  vivid,  easy-flowing  language.  It  is 
to  be  regretted  that  so  few  readers  of  the  present  day  are  acquainted 
with  his  works.  There  are  several  reasons  for  this.  One  of  these 
reasons — upon  which  I  have  enlarged  in  the  previous  part  of  this 
Memoir — is  the  hostility  directed  against  him  during  his  lifetime 
by  an  influential  class  of  critics,  who  were  at  the  head  of  powerful 
literary  organs  on  the  Government  side  of  politics.  Hazlitt  was 
an  uncompromising  politician.  He  was  on  the  popular  side,  and 
evinced  the  most  strenuous  opposition  to  the  existing  Governments, 
at  home  and  abroad.  His  thorough  integrity,  his  denunciation  of 
corruption  and  official  servility,  and  his  unswerving  consistency, 
rendered  him  an  object  of  hatred  to  the  supporters  of  "things  as 
they  are ; "  and  led  to  those  personal  attacks  upon  his  works  and 
literary  character  which  undoubtedly  injured  his  popularity  as  an 
author,  and  left  behind  them  influences  and  prejudices  which  have 
not  yet  altogether  ceased  to  act  unfavourably  upon  his  reputation. 
Another  cause  which  has  diminished  his  influence  is  the  voluminous- 
ness  of  his  writings.  An  author  who  has  left  so  much  behind  him 
is  at  a  disadvantage  compared  with  one  of  equal  power  whose  works 
are  contained  within  a  moderate  compass.  For  twenty  years  he 
was  constantly  writing  for  his  livelihood,  and  thus  often  compelled 
to  the  act  of  composition  when  his  health  and  surroundings  were 
anything  but  favourable  to  thought.  His  consciousness  of  in- 
tellectual power,  assisted  by  unusual  command  of  language,  induced 
him  to  draw  continually  on  his  mental  resources,  leading  in  some 
of  his  writings  to  repetition,  and  to  a  certain  egotistical  tone, 
which  his  enemies  knew  how  to  turn  to  his  disadvantage,  and  for 
which  the  ability  and  originality  of  other  portions  were  not  allowed 
to  atone. 

Hazlitt's  writings  abound  in  acute  and  eloquently  expressed 
opinions  on  literature,  art,  life,  and  manners.  No  critic  so 
thoroughly  imparts  to  his  readers  the  sense  of  his  own  enjoyment 
of  genius,  as  well  as  reveals  the  process  of  it  with  such  success. 
His  critical  judgments  are  sometimes  warped  by  personal  and 
political  prejudices ;  but,  with  all  their  drawbacks,  there  are  none 
superior  to  his  in  vigour  and  general  truthfulness.  Even  when 
his  judgments  are  at  fault,  they  are  hardly  calculated  to  mislead  the 
taste  of  the  reader,  from  the  ease  with  which  it  is  perceived  and  re 
ferred  to  its  source  in  caprice  or  a  momentary  fit  of  spleen.  Hazlitt 

D 


1  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

infused  an  entirely  new  spirit  into  the  criticism  of  his  day.  He 
showed  that  the  way  to  comprehend  a  work  was  to  enjoy  it,  and 
that  just  perception  is  closely  allied  to  sympathy.  If  we  trace  the 
history  of  English  criticism,  we  shall  find  that  Hazlitt  began  a  new 
era  ;  and  whatever  may  be  our  opinion  of  his  estimates  of  individual 
writers  and  artists,  it  must  be  allowed  that  his  way  of  treating  their 
productions — that  is,  sympathisingly,  and  not  merely  in  a  conven- 
tional or  prescriptive  manner — is  a  great  advance  upon  the  previous 
methods  of  treatment.  The  word  "critical"  hardly  conveys  a  true  idea 
of  his  mode  of  dealing  with  the  works  and  genius  of  great  writers. 
It  is  a  kind  of  treatment  which  had  never  before  been  attempted,  or 
even  dreamed  of.  It  has  been  described  as  not  so  much  an  art 
cultivated,  as  a  new  and  beautiful  sphere  of  literature  created, 
ministering  wholly  to  refined  enjoyment.  He  is  less  a  writer  than 
an  illustrator,  and  less  an  illustrator  than  an  enthusiastic  expositor 
and  panegyrist,  whose  eulogium  is  the  spontaneous  overflow  of  an 
exquisite  perception  of,  and  an  intense  sympathy  with,  the  beauties 
on  which  he  expatiates.  His  appreciation  of  literature  and  art  was 
more  earnest,  suggestive,  and  discriminating  than  that  of  any  critic 
of  his  time  or  before  him ;  while  his  style  was  calculated  to  rivet 
attention  by  its  remarkable  clearness,  fluency,  and  vigour,  its  warmth 
and  richness  of  colouring.  His  knowledge  of  the  fine  arts,  the  drama, 
works  of  fancy  and  fiction,  and  other  departments  of  literature, 
taken  severally,  may  not  equal  that  of  some  other  writers,  but 
taken  altogether,  is  certainly  unrivalled.  His  works  are  full  of 
spirit  and  vivacity,  and  there  is  at  the  same  time  an  intensity  and 
vividness  of  conception  which  embodies  ideas  that  are  so  volatile 
and  fugitive  as  to  escape  the  grasp  of  a  slower,  though  even  pro- 
founder  intellect.  He  professes  to  throw  aside  the  conventional  for- 
mality of  authorship,  and  to  give  his  thoughts  to  the  world  with  the 
freedom  and  frankness  of  Montaigne.  He  has  fine  sensibility,  great 
imaginative  power,  remarkable  acuteness  of  intellect,  and  a  masterly 
gift  of  expression.  His  beauties  are  procured  by  a  great  expendi- 
ture of  thinking,  and  some  of  his  single  strokes  and  flashes  reveal 
more  to  the  reader's  understanding  than  whole  pages  of  an  ordinary 
author.  He  is  one  of  the  most  suggestive  of  writers.  There  are 
few  who  make  their  readers  think  so  much,  and  he  is  constantly 
putting  us  on  the  track  of  speculation  or  intellectual  sympathy. 
He  makes  life  interesting  by  hinting  to  us  its  latent  significance, 
and  he  reveals  the  mysterious  charm  of  character  by  analysing  its 
elements  and  probing  its  inmost  depth.  Seldom  have  the  inmost 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  li 

experiences  of  an  author  been  more  completely  revealed  than  in  the 
case  of  Hazlitt.  There  are  few  salient  points  and  startling  passages 
in  his  life  that  he  has  omitted  to  look  upon  or  glance  at  in  his 
Essays.  The  processes  and  impressions  of  his  own  mind  had  such 
an  interest  for  him,  that  he  feels  a  delight  in  recording  them  and 
speculating  on  them.  In  treating  of  a  work  of  art  or  a  favourite 
author,  he  brought  to  bear  on  their  interpretation  all  the  sym- 
pathetic insight  born  of  his  own  experience.  He  makes  us  ac- 
quainted with  all  his  tastes  and  antipathies,  his  prejudices  and 
passions.  He  reveals  his  errors  and  weaknesses,  and  is  anything 
but  a  self-laudator.  Indeed,  authorship  was  to  him  a  kind  of  con- 
fessional. It  has  been  remarked  that  some  of  his  best  essays  may 
be  said  to  be  in  a  sense  autobiographical,  because  in  them  he  recalls 
his  enthusiasms  and  the  passionate  hopes  on  which  he  fed  his  spirit. 
Some  of  these  apostrophes  and  references  to  his  past  life  are  not  to 
be  matched  for  tenderness  and  sad  regret  by  anything  in  the  range 
of  literature.  An  American  critic,  alluding  to  this  peculiarity  of 
Hazlitt's — his  indulgence  in  retrospective  thought  and  self -revelation 
— says,  "  He  was  an  epicurean  in  this  regard,  delighting  to  renew  the 
vivid  experience  of  the  past  by  the  glow  of  deliberate  reminiscence, 
and  to  associate  his  best  moods  for  work  and  his  most  genial  studies 
with  natural  scenery  and  physical  comfort.  No  writer  ever  more 
delicately  fused  sensation  and  sentiment,  or  drew  from  sunshine, 
fireside,  landscape,  air,  viands,  and  vagabondage  more  delectable 
adjuncts." 

The  extreme  wilfulness  of  his  character  often  led  him  into  the 
indulgence  of  strong  prejudices  and  induced  a  fondness  for  para- 
dox ;  but  even  his  paradoxes  often  serve  as  admirable  stimulants 
to  thought.  In  an  unreprinted  essay  of  his  in  a  newspaper 
in  1828,  "On  the  Causes  of  Popular  Opinion,"  he  explains  his 
love  of  paradox  in  this  way  :  "  All  abstract  reasoning  is  in  ex- 
tremes, or  only  takes  up  one  view  of  a  question,  or  what  is  called 
the  principle  of  the  thing  ;  and  if  you  want  to  give  this  popularity 
and  effect,  you  are  in  danger  of  running  into  extravagance  and 
hyperbole.  I  have  had  to  bring  out  some  obscure  distinction,  or 
to  combat  some  strong  prejudice,  and  in  doing  this  with  all  my 
might,  may  have  often  overshot  the  mark.  It  was  easy  to  correct 
the  excess  of  truth  afterwards." 

He  possessed  a  deep  and  earnest  feeling  for  truth,  which  was 
indeed  the  guiding-star  of  all  his  thoughts  and  speculations.  No 
truer  words  were  ever  spoken  of  him  than  those  of  Talfourd 


lii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

when  he  says  that  "  he  had  as  passionate  a  desire  for  truth  as  others 
have  for  wealth,  or  power,  or  fame."  His  purpose  was  always  pure 
and  earnest,  and  no  temptation  could  induce  him  to  pervert  or  to 
conceal  the  faith  that  was  in  him.  One  of  the  most  profitable 
results  accruing  from,  his  critical  writings  is  the  intellectual  zeal 
which  they  communicate,  sending  us  to  the  writers  on  whom  he 
is  discoursing  with  a  whetted  appetite,  eager  to  relish  their  beauties. 
So  keen  is  his  enjoyment  of  every  trait  of  beauty  and  truth  in 
literature  and  in  life  which  forcibly  strikes  his  imagination,  so 
warm  the  feeling  that  pervades  his  thought,  and  so  rich  the  colour- 
ing in  which  the  thought  is  invested,  that  he  at  once  makes  captive 
our  sympathies,  and  compels  us  "by  his  so  potent  art"  to  join  in 
his  admiration.  One  remarkable  peculiarity  in  his  writings  is  his 
love  of  quotation,  which  is  always  just,  striking,  and  unmistakably 
felicitous.  Emerson  says,  "  We  are  as  much  informed  of  a  writer's 
genius  by  what  he  selects  as  by  what  he  originates.  We  read  the 
quotation  with  his  eyes,  and  find  a  new  and  fervent  sense."  Some 
of  Hazlitt's  essays  were  so  studded  with  rich  gems  of  thought,  that 
the  pages  shine  like  cloth  of  gold.  To  the  charges  made  by  some 
of  his  critics  that  he  was  inconsistent,  that  he  had  a  narrow  range 
of  ideas  and  repeated  himself,  and  that  he  made  personal  attacks  on 
his  friends,  he  gives  the  following  answer  in  a  newspaper  article 
which  has  never  been  reprinted : — "  I  have  been  accused  of  in- 
consistency for  writing  an  essay,  for  instance,  on  the  Advantages 
of  Pedantry,  and  another  on  the  Ignorance  of  the  Learned,  as  if 
ignorance  had  not  its  comforts  as  well  as  knowledge.  The  person- 
alities I  have  fallen  into  have  never  been  gratuitous.  If  I  have 
sacrificed  my  friends,  it  has  always  been  to  a  theory.  I  have  been 
found  fault  with  for  repeating  myself,  and  for  a  narrow  range  of 
ideas.  To  a  want  of  general  reading  I  plead  guilty,  and  am  sorry 
for  it ;  but  perhaps  if  I  had  read  more,  I  might  have  thought  less. 
As  to  my  barrenness  of  invention,  I  have  at  least  glanced  over  a 
number  of  subjects — painting,  poetry,  prose,  plays,  politics,  parlia- 
mentary speakers,  metaphysical  lore,  books,  men  and  things.  There 
is  some  point,  some  fancy,  some  feeling,  some  taste,  shown  in  treat- 
ing of  these.  Which  of  my  conclusions  have  been  reversed  ?  Is  it 
what  I  said  ten  years  ago  of  the  Bourbons,  which  raised  the  war- 
whoop  against  me  ?  Surely  all  the  world  are  of  that  opinion  now. 
I  have  then  given  proof  of  some  talent,  and  of  more  honesty  ;  if 
there  is  haste  or  want  of  method,  there  is  no  common-place,  nor  a 
line  that  licks  the  dust ;  and  if  I  do  not  appear  to  more  advantage, 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  liii 

I  at  least  appear  such  as  I  am.  ...  I  hope  to  be  acquitted  of  an 
absolute  dearth  of  resources,  and  want  of  versatility  in  the  direc- 
tion of  my  studies." 


HAZLITT'S  PERSONAL  CHARACTERISTICS. 

We  have  one  or  two  descriptive  accounts  of  Hazlitt  by  friends 
which  enable  us  to  form  some  notion  of  his  personal  appearance 
and  ways.  Talfourd  describes  him  to  have  been  "of  the  middle 
eize,  with  a  handsome  and  eager  countenance,  worn  by  sickness  and 
thought,  and  dark  hair,  which  had  curled  stiffly  over  the  temples, 
and  was  only  of  late  years  sprinkled  with  grey.  His  gait  was 
slouching  and  awkward,  and  his  dress  neglected ;  but  when  he 
began  to  talk,  he  could  not  be  mistaken  for  a  common  man.  In  the 
company  of  persons  with  whom  he  was  not  familiar  his  bashfulness 
was  painful ;  but  when  he  became  entirely  at  ease,  and  entered  on 
a  favourite  topic,  no  one's  conversation  was  ever  more  delightful. 
He  did  not  talk  for  effect,  to  dazzle,  or  surprise,  or  annoy,  but 
with  the  most  simple  and  honest  desire  to  make  his  view  of  the 
subject  entirely  apprehended  by  his  hearer.  There  was  sometimes 
an  obvious  struggle  to  do  this  to  his  own  satisfaction ;  he  seemed 
labouring  to  drag  his  thought  to  light  from  its  deep  lurking-place  ; 
and,  with  modest  distrust  of  that  power  of  expression  which  he 
had  found  so  late  in  life,  he  often  betrayed  a  fear  that  he  had 
failed  to  make  himself  understood,  and  recurred  to  the  subject  again 
and  again,  that  he  might  be  assured  he  had  succeeded.  In  argu- 
ment he  was  candid  and  liberal ;  there  was  nothing  about  him 
pragmatical  or  exclusive."  For  many  years  previous  to  his  death 
he  abstained  entirely  from  the  use  of  alcoholic  liquors,  having  found 
indulgence  in  them  to  be  injurious  to  his  health.  We  are  told 
that  the  cheerfulness  with  which  he  made  this  resolution  and 
adhered  to  it  was  one  of  the  most  amiable  traits  in  his  character. 
To  give  Talfourd's  words,  "He  had  no  censure  for  others,  who, 
with  the  same  motive,  were  less  wise  or  less  resolute ;  nor  did  he 
think  he  had  earned,  by  his  own  constancy,  any  right  to  intrude 
advice.  .  .  .  He  avowed  that  he  yielded  to  necessity ;  and  instead 
of  avoiding  the  sight  of  that  which  he  could  no  longer  taste,  he 
was  seldom  so  happy  as  when  he  sat  with  friends  at  their  wine, 
participating  in  the  sociality  of  the  time,  and  renewing  his  own  past 
enjoyment  in  that  of  his  companions,  without  regret  and  without 


liv  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

envy.  ...  In  society,  as  in  politics,  he  was  no  flincher.  He  loved 
'to  hear  the  chimes  at  midnight,'  without  considering  them  as  a 
summons  to  rise.  At  these  seasons,  when  in  his  happiest  mood, 
he  used  to  dwell  on  the  conversational  powers  of  his  friends,  and 
live  over  again  the  delightful  hours  he  had  passed  with  them, 
repeat  the  pregnant  puns  that  one  had  made,  tell  over  again  a 
story  with  which  another  had  convulsed  the  room,  or  expand  in 
the  eloquence  of  a  third  ;  always  best  pleased  when  he  could  detect 
some  talent  which  was  unregarded  by  the  world,  and  giving  alike 
to  the  celebrated  and  the  unknown  due  honour." 

Mr.  Bryan  Waller  Procter  (Barry  Cornwall)  saw  a  great  deal  of 
Hazlitt  during  the  last  twelve  or  thirteen  years  of  his  life,  and  has 
left  on  record  his  impressions  of  him.  He  first  met  him  at  supper 
at  Leigh  Hunt's.  He  expected  to  find  a  severe,  defiant-looking  being, 
instead  of  which  he  met  a  grave  man,  diffident,  almost  awkward  in 
manner,  whose  appearance  did  not  impress  him  with  much  respect. 
"  He  had  a  quick  restless  eye,  however,  which  opened  eagerly  when 
any  good  or  bright  observation  was  made  ;  and  he  found  at  the 
conclusion  of  the  evening,  that  when  any  question  arose,  the  most 
sensible  reply  always  came  from  him.  He  had  nothing  that  was 
parsimonious  or  mean  in  his  character,  and  never  thought  of  eating 
or  drinking  except  when  hunger  or  thirst  reminded  him  of  these 
wants.  With  the  exception  of  a  very  rare  dinner  or  supper  with  a 
friend  or  intimate,  his  time  was  generally  spent  alone.  After  a  late 
breakfast  he  took  his  quire  of  foolscap  paper,  and  commenced  writing, 
in  a  large  hand,  almost  as  large  as  text,  his  day's  work.  There  never 
was  any  rough  draft  or  copy.  He  wrote  readily — not  very  swiftly, 
but  easily,  as  if  he  had  made  up  his  mind  ;  and  this  was  the  manu- 
script that  went  to  the  printer.  He  was  of  the  middle  size,  with 
eager,  expressive  eyes  ;  near  which  his  black  hair,  sprinkled  sparsely 
with  grey,  curled  round  in  a  wiry,  resolute  manner.  His  grey  eyes, 
not  remarkable  in  colour,  expanded  into  great  expression  when  occa- 
sion demanded  it.  Being  very  shy,  however,  they  often  evaded  your 
steadfast  look.  They  never  (as  has  been  asserted  by  some  one)  had 
a  sinister  expression ;  but  they  sometimes  flamed  with  indignant 
glances,  when  their  owner  was  moved  to  anger ;  like  the  eyes  of 
other  angry  men.  At  home  his  style  of  dress  (or  undress)  was  perhaps 
slovenly,  because  there  was  no  one  to  please  ;  but  he  always  pre- 
sented a  very  clean  and  neat  appearance  when  he  went  abroad.  His 
mode  of  walking  was  loose,  weak,  and  unsteady,  although  his  arms 
displayed  strength,  which  he  used  to  put  forth  when  he  played  at 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  lv 

rackets  with  Martin  Burney  and  others.  He  played  in  the  old  Fives 
Court  (now  pulled  down),  and  occasionally  exhibited  impatience  when 
the  game  went  against  him.  The  whole  of  many,  and  the  half  of 
more  days,  were  consumed  in  this  amusement.  It  was  here  that  he 
witnessed  the  play  at  fives  of  the  celebrated  John  Kavanagh,  of  whom 
he  has  written  an  account — at  once  an  eulogy  and  an  epitaph." 

Mr.  P.  G.  Patmore,  who  knew  Hazlitt  during  the  last  sixteen  or 
seventeen  years  of  his  life,  devotes  a  large  portion  of  the  three 
volumes  called  "My  Friends  and  Acquaintances"  to  recollections 
of  him.  From  these  the  following  sentences  are  taken  : — "  For  depth, 
force,  and  variety  of  intellectual  expression,  a  finer  head  and  face 
than  Hazlitt's  were  never  seen.  I  speak  of  them  when  his  coun- 
tenance was  not  dimmed  and  obscured  by  illness,  or  clouded  and 
deformed  by  those  fearful  indications  of  internal  passion  which  he 
never  even  attempted  to  conceal.  The  expression  of  his  face,  when 
anything  was  said  that  seriously  offended  him,  or  when  any  pecu- 
liarly painful  recollection  passed  across  his  mind,  was  truly  awful 
— more  so  than  can  be  conceived  as  within  the  capacity  of  the  human 
countenance  ;  except  perhaps  by  those  who  have  witnessed  Edmund 
Kean's  last  scene  of  Sir  Giles  Overreach  from  the  front  of  the  pit. 
But  when  he  was  in  good  health,  and  in  a  tolerable  humour  with 
himself  and  the  world,  his  face  was  more  truly  and  entirely  answer- 
able to  the  intellect  that  spoke  through  it  than  any  other  I  ever 
saw,  either  in  life  or  on  canvas  ;  and  its  crowning  portion,  the  brow 
and  forehead,  was,  to  my  thinking,  quite  unequalled  for  mingled 
capacity  and  beauty.  .  .  .  The  forehead,  as  I  have  hinted,  was  mag- 
nificent ;  the  nose  precisely  that  (combining  strength  with  lightness 
and  elegance)  which  physiognomists  have  assigned  as  evidence  of  a 
fine  and  highly  cultivated  taste  ;  though  there  was  a  peculiar  char- 
acter about  the  nostrils,  like  that  observable  in  those  of  a  fiery  and 
unruly  horse.  The  mouth,  from  its  ever-changing  form  and  char- 
acter, could  scarcely  be  described,  except  as  to  its  astonishingly 
varied  power  of  expression,  which  was  equal  to,  and  greatly  re- 
sembled, that  of  Edmund  Kean.  .  .  .  He  always  lived  (during  the 
period  of  my  intimacy  with  him)  in  furnished  lodgings.  .  .  .  He 
usually  rose  at  from  one  to  two  o'clock  in  the  day — scarcely  ever 
before  .twelve  ;  and,  if  he  had  no  work  in  hand,  he  would  sit  over 
his  breakfast  (of  excessively  strong  black  tea  and  a  toasted  French 
roll)  till  four  or  five  in  the  afternoon — silent,  motionless,  and  self- 
absorbed,  as  a  Turk  over  his  opium-pouch  ;  for  tea  served  him  pre- 
cisely in  this  capacity.  It  was  the  only  stimulant  he  ever  took,  and 


Ivi  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

at  the  same  time  the  only  luxury  ;  the  delicate  state  of  his  digestive 
organs  prevented  him  from  tasting  any  fermented  liquors,  or  touching 
any  food  but  beef  or  mutton,  or  poultry  or  game.  ...  A  cup  of  his 
tea  (if  you  happened  to  come  in  for  the  first  brewage  of  it)  was  a 
peculiar  thing ;  I  have  never  tasted  anything  like  it.  He  always 
made  it  himself,  using  with  it  a  great  quantity  of  sugar  and  cream. 
To  judge  from  its  occasional  effects  upon  myself,  I  should  say  that 
the  quantity  he  drank  of  this  tea  produced  ultimately  a  most  injurious 
effect  upon  him.  .  .  .  His  breakfast  and  tea  were  frequently  the 
only  meals  that  he  took  till  late  at  night,  when  he  usually  ate  a 
hearty  supper  of  hot  meat.  This  he  invariably  took  at  a  tavern. 
.  .  .  Among  the  houses  he  frequented  was  the  Southampton  Coffee- 
House,  in  Southampton  Buildings,  Chancery  Lane.  This  he  has 
immortalised  in  one  of  the  most  amusing  of  his  essays,  '  On  Coffee- 
House  Politicians.'  Here,  for  several  years,  he  used  to  hold  a  sort 
of  evening  levee,  where,  after  a  certain  hour  at  night,  he  was  always 
to  be  found,  and  always  more  or  less  ready  to  take  part  in  that  sort 
of  desultory  talk  in  which  he  excelled  every  man  I  have  ever  met 
with.  Here,  in  that  little  bare  and  comfortless  coffee-room,  have  I 
scores  of  times  seen  the  daylight  peep  through  the  crevices  of  the 
window-shutters  upon  '  Table-Talk '  that  was  worthy  an  intellectual 
feast  of  the  gods.  .  .  .  With  regard  to  his  actual  method  of  com- 
position, he  never  thought  for  half  an  hour  beforehand  as  to  what 
he  should  say  on  any  given  subject,  or  even  as  to  the  general  manner 
in  which  he  should  treat  it.  ...  The  total  want  of  premeditation 
with  which  he  could  produce,  in  a  singularly  short  space  of  time,  an 
essay  full  of  acute  or  profound  thought,  copious,  with  various  and 
novel  illustrations,  and  perfectly  original  views,  couched  in  terse, 
polished,  vigorous,  and  epigrammatic  language,  was  quite  extra- 
ordinary, and  is  only  to  be  explained  by  the  two  facts — first,  that 
lie  never  by  choice  wrote  on  any  topic  or  question  in  which  he  did 
not,  for  some  reason  or  other,  feel  a  deep  personal  interest ;  and 
secondly,  because  on  all  questions  on  which  he  did  so  feel,  he  had 
thought,  meditated,  and  pondered,  in  the  silence  and  solitude  of  his 
own.  heart,  for  years  and  years  before  he  ever  contemplated  doing 
more  than  thinking  of  them." 

ESTIMATES  OF  HAZLITT, 

Before  bringing  this  Memoir  to  a  close,  it  will  be  well  to  place  on 
record  a  few  estimates  of  Hazlitt's  genius,  writings,  and  character 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  Ivii 

from  pens  of  recognised  authority.  They  will  serve  as  an  example 
of  the  singular  consensus  of  opinion  regarding  this  remarkable 
writer  among  men  of  high  literary  reputation  as  well  as  of  the  most 
diverse  intellectual  gifts.  They  are  selected  from  a  large  array  of 
criticism  that  would  fill  a  volume,  including  the  names  of  De 
Quincey,  Jeffrey,  Leigh  Hunt,  John  Forster,  Albany  Fonblanque, 
Miss  Mitford,  W.  J.  Fox,  Ebenezer  Elliot,  Mrs.  Jameson,  George 
Gilfillan,  Sir  A.  Alison,  and  many  others.  I  give  only  seven,  which 
will  represent,  as  it  were,  in  historical  order,  the  best  critical  and 
general  estimates  of  Hazlitt  from  the  time  of  his  death,  nearly  sixty 
years  ago,  down  to  the  present  day. 

Foremost  of  all  opinions  regarding  Hazlitt  must  be  placed  the 
beautiful  and  touching  words  of  his  oldest  and  best-beloved  friend, 
Charles  Lamb.  They  were  written  on  an  occasion  when  he  felt  bound 
to  defend  his  friend  against  some  remarks  from  a  hostile  quarter. 
Southey  had  paid  Lamb  a  compliment  at  the  expense  of  some  of  his 
companions,  Hazlitt  being  included  among  them.  At  this  time  there 
had  been  a  slight  interruption  of  the  friendship  between  them,  arising 
from  a  misunderstanding  on  the  part  of  Hazlitt.  This  did  not  matter 
to  Lamb.  He  loved  Hazlitt  too  well  to  allow  any  temporary  ill- 
temper  or  waywardness  on  the  part  of  the  former  to  interfere  with 
his  affection  and  esteem  for  him,  and  he  refused  the  proffered  com- 
pliment at  such  a  price.  Lamb,  with  his  fine  sense  of  the  weakness 
no  less  than  of  the  strength  of  human  nature,  always  made  allowance 
for  Hazlitt's  errors  and  inconsistencies,  treating  them  with  a  wise 
and  just  consideration.  He  always  spoke  freely  of  him,  behind  his 
back  or  before  his  face,  but  never  disparagingly.  In  canvassing  his 
faults  of  character,  he  always  bore  in  mind,  and  called  to  mind 
in  others,  the  rare  and  admirable  qualities  by  which  they  were 
accompanied,  and  with  which  they  were  probably  naturally  linked. 
Hazlitt  felt  this,  and  it  was  the  secret  of  his  regard  for  Lamb.  As 
the  tribute  to  Hazlitt  referred  to  was  a  public  one,  it  at  once  put 
an  end  to  the  misunderstanding,  and  no  cloud  ever  afterwards 
intervened  between  them.  Lamb's  words  were  these,  and  they  will 
always  stand  as  a  noble  record  of  his  heart  and  intellect : — "  I  stood 
well  with  him  for  fifteen  years  (the  proudest  of  my  life),  and  have 
ever  spoke  my  full  mind  of  him  to  some  to  whom  his  panegyric 
must  naturally  be  least  tasteful.  I  never  in  thought  swerved  from 
him ;  I  never  betrayed  him ;  I  never  slackened  in  my  admiration 
for  him  ;  I  was  the  same  to  him  (neither  better  nor  worse),  though 
he  could  not  see  it,  as  in  the  days  when  he  thought  fit  to  trust  me. 


Iviii  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

At  this  instant  he  may  be  preparing  for  me  some  compliment  above 
my  deserts,  as  he  has  sprinkled  such  among  his  admirable  books,  for 
which  I  rest  his  debtor  ;  or,  for  anything  I  know  or  can  guess  to  the 
contrary,  he  may  be  about  to  read  a  lecture  on  my  weaknesses.  He 
is  welcome  to  them  (as  he  was  to  my  humble  hearth),  if  they  can 
divert  a  spleen  or  ventilate  a  fit  of  sullenness.  I  wish  he  would 
not  quarrel  with  the  world  at  the  rate  he  does ;  but  the  reconciliation 
must  be  effected  by  himself,  and  I  despair  of  living  to  see  that  day. 
But,  protesting  against  much  that  he  has  written,  and  some  things 
which  he  chooses  to  do  ;  judging  him  by  his  conversations,  which  I 
enjoyed  so  long  and  relished  so  deeply,  or  by  his  books,  in  those 
places  where  no  clouding  passion  intervenes — I  should  belie  my 
own  conscience  if  I  said  less  than  that  I  think  W.  H.  to  be,  in  his 
natural  and  healthy  state,  one  of  the  wisest  and  finest  spirits  breath- 
ing. So  far  from  being  ashamed  of  that  intimacy  which  was  betwixt 
us,  it  is  my  boast  that  I  was  able  for  so  many  years  to  have  preserved 
it  entire ;  and  I  think  I  shall  go  to  my  grave  without  finding,  or 
expecting  to  find,  such  another  companion." 

Next  among  these  records  of  opinion  regarding  Hazlitt  I  place 
the  following  desultory  remarks  by  Bryan  Waller  Procter,  known 
in  literature  by  the  nom  de  plume  of  Barry  Cornwall,  and  as  the 
father  of  the  poetess,  Adelaide  Procter.  Procter  was  the  intimate 
and  esteemed  friend  of  Hazlitt  for  sixteen  or  seventeen  years  before 
his  death,  and  the  companion  of  Lamb,  Hunt,  and  other  men  of 
letters  of  the  time.  These  remarks  are  little  more  than  a  rough 
draft,  jotted  down  between  his  seventy-fifth  and  seventy -ninth  years 
— mere  memoranda  for  a  more  complete  portrait  which  he  contem- 
plated. He  died  at  the  age  of  eighty -seven.  He  was  a  man  of 
refined  literary  tastes  and  culture,  and  an  accomplished  writer  both 
in  prose  and  verse.  He  had  a  sound  judgment  and  wide  sympathies, 
and  was  capable  of  forming  a  sober  and  unexaggerated  estimate  of 
his  contemporaries.  Hence  the  value  of  his  remarks  on  the  subject 
of  this  Memoir. 

"Justice  has  never  been  done,  I  think,  to  the  great  and  varied 
talents  of  William  Hazlitt.  The  opinion  of  the  dominant  party 
('public  opinion,'  as  it  is  called)  was  directed  against  him  during 
his  life,  and  that  opinion  has  continued  to  prevail,  amongst  the 
unthinking  and  easy  multitude,  ever  since.  .  .  .  Hazlitt  himself 
had  strong  passions  and  a  few  prejudices ;  and  his  free  manifes- 
tation of  these  were  adduced  as  an  excuse  for  the  slander  and 
animosity  with  which  he  was  perpetually  assailed.  He  attacked 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  lix 

others,  indeed  (a  few  only),  and  of  these  he  expressed  his  dislike 
in  terms  sometimes  too  violent  perhaps.  .  .  .  Yet,  when  an  oppor- 
tunity arose  to  require  from  him  an  unbiassed  opinion,  he  was 
always  just.  .  .  .  Subject  to  the  faults  arising  out  of  this  his  warm 
temperament,  he  possessed  qualities  worthy  of  affection  and  respect. 
He  was  a  simple,  unselfish  man,  void  of  all  deception  and  pretence  ; 
and  he  had  a  clear,  acute  intellect,  when  not  traversed  by  some 
temporary  passion  or  confused  by  a  strong  prejudice.  Almost  all 
men  come  to  the  consideration  of  a  subject  (not  mathematical)  with 
some  prejudice  or  predilection.  And  even  a  prejudice,  as  Burke 
says,  has  its  kernel  (which  should  be  preserved)  as  well  as  its  husk 
(which  should  be  cast  aside).  Like  many  others,  he  was  sometimes 
swayed  by  his  affections.  He  loved  the  first  Napoleon  beyond  the 
bounds  of  reason.  He  loved  the  worker  better  than  the  idler. 
He  hated  pretensions  supported  merely  by  rank  or  wealth  or  repute, 
or  by  the  clamour  of  factions.  And  he  felt  love  and  hatred  in  an 
intense  degree.  But  he  was  never  dishonest.  He  never  struck 
down  the  weak  nor  trod  on  the  prostrate.  He  was  never  treache- 
rous, never  tyrannical,  never  cruel.  .  .  .  The  history  of  Hazlitt  is 
like  that  of  some  of  the  scholars  of  former  times,  who  were  always 
face  to  face  with  misfortune.  Merit  (especially  without  prudence) 
is  of  insufficient  strength  to  oppose  injustice,  which  is  always 
without  pity.  It  seems  to  be  a  hopeless  task  to  be  always  toiling 
up  an  ascent,  where  power  and  malignity  united  stand  armed  at 
the  top.  Then  at  one  time  he  had  ill-health,  which  added  its 
weight  to  the  constant  obloquy  with  which  he  was  assailed.  To 
oppose  this  were  the  strength  arising  from  a  sense  of  injustice  and 
the  native  vigour  of  his  own  soul.  He  had  a  grand  masculine 
intellect,  which  conquered  details  as  well  as  entireties,  and  rejected 
nothing  which  helped  the  understanding.  .  .  .  The  decisions  of 
a  hostile  majority  pressed  down  (as  I  have  said)  the  reputation  of 
William  Hazlitt,  and  no  one  has  taken  the  trouble  to  elevate  it 
to  its  proper  position  since.  .  .  .  Hazlitt's  range  of  thought  was 
very  extensive.  He  wrote  on  books  and  men,  on  politics  and 
manners.  Metaphysics  were  not  too  remote  from  him,  nor  was 
the  stage  too  trivial  or  too  near.  In  his  pages  you  may  read  of 
Berkeley  and  Hume,  of  Jeremy  Taylor  and  Sir  Thomas  Browne. 
You  may  recreate  yourself  with  Shakespeare  and  Milton,  with 
Wordsworth,  with  Pope,  and  Lord  Byron.  He  has  commented 
on  philosophers  and  divines,  on  tragedy  and  comedy,  on  poetry 
and  politics,  on  morals,  on  manners,  on  style,  on  reasoning.  .  .  , 


Ix  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

Hazlitt's  critical  style,  in  all  cases  where  he  does  not  overwhelm 
it  by  elaborate  eulogy,  is  strong,  picturesque,  and  expressive.  As 
a  piece  of  eloquent  writing,  few  passages  in  literature  surpass  his 
'Introduction  to  the  Literature  of  Elizabeth.'  Leigh  Hunt  said, 
cleverly,  that  his  'criticisms  on  art  threw  a  light  on  the  subject 
as  from  a  painted  window.'  .  .  .  No  man  was  competent  to  write 
upon  Hazlitt  who  did  not  know  him  personally.  Some  things  of 
which  he  has  been  accused  were  referable  merely  to  temporary 
humour  or  irritability,  which  was  not  frequent,  and  which  was 
laid  aside  in  an  hour.  At  other  times  (by  far  the  greater  portion 
of  his  life)  he  was  a  candid  and  reasonable  man.  He  felt  the 
injuries  and  slanders,  however,  which  were  spit  forth  upon  him, 
acutely,  and  resented  them.  He  was  not  one  of  those  easy, 
comfortable,  and  so-called  'good-natured'  men,  who  are  simply 
inaccessible  to  strong  emotions,  and  from  whom  the  minor  ills  of 
life  fall  off,  without  disturbing  them,  like  rain  from  a  pent-house 
top.  .  .  .  His  essays  are  full  of  thought ;  full  of  delicate  perceptions. 
They  do  not  speak  of  matters  which  he  has  merely  seen  or  remem- 
bered, but  enter  into  the  rights  and  wrongs  of  persons ;  into  the 
meaning  and  logic  of  things  ;  into  causes  and  results  ;  into  motives 
and  indications  of  character.  He  is,  in  short,  not  a  raconteur,  but 
a  reasoner.  This  will  be  observed  in  almost  all  his  numerous 
essays.  If  he  is  often  ostentatious,  that  is  to  say,  if  he  accumulates 
image  upon  image,  reason  upon  reason,  it  is  simply  that  he  is  more 
in  earnest  than  other  writers." 

A  few  sentences  have  already  been  given  from  Bulwer's  "  Thoughts 
on  the  Genius  and  Writings  of  William  Hazlitt,"  contributed  to  the 
Literary  Remains,  which  appeared  six  years  after  his  death.  The 
following  sentences  are  taken  from  the  same  article  : — "  He  had  a 
keen  sense  of  the  Beautiful  and  the  Subtle ;  and  what  is  more,  he 
was  deeply  imbued  with  sympathies  for  the  Humane.  He  ranks 
high  among  the  social  writers — his  intuitive  feeling  was  in  favour  of 
the  multitude  ;  yet  had  he  nothing  of  the  demagogue  in  literature ;  he 
did  not  pander  to  a  single  vulgar  passion.  .  .  .  Posterity  will  do  him 
justice.  ...  A  complete  collection  of  his  works  is  all  the  monument 
he  demands.  To  the  next  age  he  will  stand  amongst  the  foremost 
of  the  thinkers  of  the  present ;  and  that  late  and  tardy  retribution 
will  assuredly  be  his,  which  compensates  to  others  the  neglect  to 
which  men  of  genius  sometimes  (though  not  so  frequently  as  we 
believe)  are  doomed  ; — that  retribution  which,  long  after  the  envy 
they  provoked  is  dumb,  and  the  errors  they  themselves  committed 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  ki 

are  forgotten — invests  with  interest  everything  that  is  associated 
with  their  names ; — making  it  an  honour  even  to  have  been  their 
contemporaries." 

Thirty  years  later  the  same  critic  again  spoke  of  Hazlitt  in  the 
following  terms  : — "  Amidst  all  his  intolerant  prejudices  and  his 
wild  extravagance  of  apparent  hate,  there  are  in  Hazlitt  from  time 
to  time — those  times  not  unfrequent — outbursts  of  sentiment  scarcely 
surpassed  among  the  writers  of  our  century  for  tender  sweetness, 
rapid  perceptions  of  truth  and  beauty  in  regions  of  criticism  then 
but  sparingly  cultured — nay,  scarcely  discovered — and  massive  frag- 
ments of  such  composition  as  no  hand  of  ordinary  strength  could 
hew  out  of  the  unransacked  mines  of  our  native  language.  .  .  It 
is  not  as  a  guide  that  Hazlitt  can  be  useful  to  any  man.  His 
merit  is  that  of  a  companion  in  districts  little  trodden — a  companion 
strong  and  hardy,  who  keeps  our  sinews  in  healthful  strain  ;  rough 
and  irascible  ;  whose  temper  will  constantly  offend  us  if  we  do  not 
steadily  preserve  our  own  ;  but  always  animated,  vivacious,  brilliant 
in  his  talk  ;  suggestive  of  truths  even  when  insisting  on  paradoxes  ; 
and  of  whom,  when  we  part  company,  we  retain  impressions  stamped 
with  the  crown-mark  of  indisputable  genius."  (Quarterly  Review, 
January  1867,  "Charles  Lamb  and  Some  of  his  Companions.") 

"  Hazlitt,"  says  Thackeray  (in  a  review  of  Home's  "  New  Spirit  of 
the  Age"  in  the  Morning  Chronicle,  1845),  "was  one  of  the  keenest 
and  brightest  critics  that  ever  lived.  With  partialities  and  pre- 
judices innumerable,  he  had  a  wit  so  keen,  a  sensibility  so  exquisite, 
an  appreciation  of  humour  or  pathos,  or  even  of  the  greatest  art, 
so  lively,  quick,  and  cultivated,  that  it  was  always  good  to  know 
what  were  the  impressions  made  by  books,  or  men,  or  pictures  on 
such  a  mind  ;  and  that,  as  there  were  not  probably  a  dozen  men  in 
England  with  powers  so  varied,  all  the  rest  of  the  world  might  be 
rejoiced  to  listen  to  the  opinions  of  this  accomplished  critic.  He 
was  of  so  different  a  caste  to  the  people  who  gave  authority  in  his 
day — the  pompous  big-wigs  and  schoolmen,  who  never  could  pardon 
him  his  familiarity  of  manner,  so  unlike  their  own — his  popular — 
too  popular — habits  and  sympathies,  so  much  beneath  their  dignity. 
...  In  all  his  modes  of  life  and  thought  he  was  so  different  from 
the  established  authorities,  with  their  degrees  and  white  neckcloths, 
that  they  hooted  the  man  down  with  all  the  power  of  their  lungs, 
and  disdained  to  hear  truth  that  came  from  such  a  rugged  philo- 
sopher." 

In  her  "History  of  England  during  the  Thirty  Years'  Peace," 


Ixu  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

Harriet  Martineau  thus  writes  of  Hazlitt :— "  In  Hazlitt  we  lost  the 
prince  of  critics  ;  and  after  he  was  gone,  there  were  many  who  could 
never  look  at  a  picture,  or  see  a  tragedy,  or  ponder  a  point  of  morals, 
or  take  a  survey  of  any  public  character,  without  a  melancholy  sense 
of  loss  in  Hazlitt's  absence  and  silence.  There  c&n  scarcely  be  a 
stronger  gratification  of  the  critical  faculties  than  in  reading  Hazlitt'a 
essays.  He  was  not  an  amiable  and  happy,  but  he  was  a  strong  and 
courageous-minded  man.  His  constitutional  irritability  was  too 
restless  to  be  soothed  by  the  influences  of  literature  and  art,  and 
his  friends  suffered  from  his  temper  almost  as  much  as  himself. 
Yet  he  was  regarded  with  respect  for  his  ingenuous  courage  in 
saying  what  was  true  about  many  important  things  and  persons  of 
his  time,  of  whom  it  was  fitting  that  the  truth  should  be  told. 
Hazlitt  would  have  passed  his  life  as  an  artist,  but  that  he  could 
not  satisfy  his  own  critical  taste,  and  had  no  patience  with  any 
position  but  the  first  in  any  department  in  which  he  worked. 
The  greater  part  of  his  life,  therefore,  was  spent  in  a  province  of 
literature  in  which  he  was  supreme  in  his  own  day,  if  not  alone. 
As  an  essayist,  he  had  rivals  ;  as  a  critical  essayist,  he  had  none." 

Dr.  Richard  Garnett,  in  a  carefully  written  and  discriminative 
article  on  William  Hazlitt  in  the  new  edition  of  the  Encyclopcedia 
Britannica,  thus  speaks  of  this  writer :  "  Hazlitt's  criticisms  on  Shake- 
speare, the  Early  Dramatists,  the  English  Poets,  Comic  Writers,  the 
Novelists  and  Essayists,  are  masterpieces  of  ingenious  and  felicitous 
exposition.  ...  As  an  essayist,  he  is  even  more  effective  than  as  a 
critic,  for  his  style  of  composition  allows  more  scope  to  the  striking 
individuality  of  his  character.  Being  enabled  to  select  his  own  sub- 
jects, he  escapes  dependence  upon  others  either  for  his  manner  or  his 
illustrations,  and  presents  himself  by  turns  as  a  metaphysician,  a 
moralist,  a  humourist,  a  painter  of  manners  and  characteristics,  but 
always,  whatever  his  ostensible  theme,  deriving  the  essence  of  his 
commentary  from  his  own  bosom.  This  combination  of  intense  sub- 
jectivity with  strict  adherence  to  his  subject  is  one  of  Hazlitt's  most 
distinctive  and  creditable  traits.  Intellectual  truthfulness  is  a 
passion  with  him.  He  steeps  his  topic  in  the  hues  of  his  own 
individuality,  but  never  uses  it  as  a  means  of  self-display.  .  .  . 
With  many  serious  defects  both  on  the  intellectual  and  the  moral 
side,  Hazlitt's  character  in  both  had  at  least  the  merit  of  sincerity 
and  consistency.  He  was  a  compound  of  intellect  and  passion,  and 
the  refinement  of  his  critical  analysis  is  associated  with  vehement 
eloquence  and  glowing  imagery.  He  was  essentially  a  critic,  a 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZL1TT.  Ixiii 

dissector,  and,  as  Bulwer  justly  remarks,  a  much  better  judge  of  men 
of  thought  than  of  men  of  action.  But  he  also  possessed  many  gifts 
in  no  way  essential  to  the  critical  character,  and  transcending  the 
critic's  ordinary  sphere.  These,  while  giving  him  rank  as  an  in- 
dependent writer,  frequently  perturbed  the  natural  clearness  of  his 
critical  judgment,  and  seduced  him  into  the  paradoxes  with  which 
his  works  abound.  These  paradoxes,  however,  never  spring  from 
affectation ;  they  are  in  general  the  sallies  of  a  mind  so  agile  and 
ardent  as  to  overrun  its  own  goal.  His  style  is  perfectly  natu- 
ral, and  yet  admirably  calculated  for  effect.  His  diction,  always 
rich  and  masculine,  seems  to  kindle  as  he  proceeds ;  and  when 
thoroughly  animated  by  his  subject,  he  advances  with  a  succession 
of  energetic  hard-hitting  sentences,  each  carrying  his  argument  a 
step  farther,  like  a  champion  dealing  out  blows  as  he  presses  upon 
the  enemy." 

The  most  recent  opinion  delivered  on  Hazlitt  is  from  the  pen  of 
Mr.  George  Saintsbury,  and  it  is  one  with  which  every  discriminating 
admirer  of  the  essayist  will  in  the  main  agree.  It  is  characterised  by 
that  critical  acumen  and  sound  judgment  which  distinguish  most  of 
Mr.  Saintsbury's  literary  estimates.  It  will  be  found  in  Macmillan's 
Magazine  for  1887.  It  is  only  possible  to  give  some  sentences  from 
the  paper,  which  deserves  a  careful  perusal  by  those  who  would  wish 
to  understand  Hazlitt. 

"There  is  indeed  no  doubt  that  Hazlitt  is  one  of  the  most 
absolutely  unequal  writers  in  English,  if  not  in  any  literature, 
Wilson  being  perhaps  his  only  compeer.  ...  It  could  not  indeed  be 
otherwise,  because  the  inequality  itself  is  due  less  to  an  intellectual 
than  to  a  moral  defect.  The  clear  sunshine  of  Hazlitt's  admirably 
acute  intellect  is  always  there ;  but  it  is  constantly  obscured  by 
driving  clouds  of  furious  prejudice.  .  .  .  He  was,  in  literature,  a 
great  man.  I  am  myself  disposed  to  think  that,  for  all  his  access  of 
hopelessly  uncritical  prejudice,  he  was  the  greatest  critic  that  England 
has  yet  produced ;  and  there  are  some  who  think  (though  I  do  not 
agree  with  them)  that  he  was  even  greater  as  a  miscellaneous  essayist 
than  as  a  critic.  It  is  certainly  upon  his  essays,  critical  and  other, 
that  his  fame  must  rest.  .  .  .  These  various  drawbacks  only  set  off  the 
merits  which  almost  every  lover  of  literature  must  perceive  in  him. 
In  most  writers — in  all  save  the  very  greatest — we  look  for  one  or 
two  or  for  a  few  special  faculties  and  capacities,  and  we  know 
perfectly  well  that  other  (generally  many  other)  capacities  and 
faculties  will  not  be  found  in  them  at  all.  .  .  .  But  in  Hazlitt  you 


Ixiv  MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 

may  find  something  of  almost  everything,  except  the  finer  bursts  of 
wit  and  humour ;  to  which  last,  however,  he  makes  a  certain  side- 
approach  by  dint  of  his  appreciation  of  the  irony  of  nature  and  fate. 
Almost  every  other  grace  in  matter  and  form  that  can  be  found  in 
prose  may  be  found  at  times  in  his.  .  .  .  Most  of  the  fine  writing  of 
these  latter  days  is  but  as  crumpled  tarlatan  to  brocaded  satin 
beside  the  passage  on  Coleridge  in  the  English  Poets,  or  the  descrip- 
tion of  Winterslow  and  its  neighbourhood  in  the  '  Farewell  to  Essay- 
Writing,'  or  'On  a  Landscape  of  Nicholas  Poussin'  in  the  Table-Talk. 
Bead  these  pieces  and  nothing  else,  and  an  excusable  impression 
might  be  given  that  the  writer  was  nothing  if  not  florid.  But  turn 
over  a  dozen  pages,  and  the  most  admirable  examples  of  the  grave 
and  chaste  manner  occur.  He  is  an  inveterate  quoter,  yet  few  men 
are  more  original.  No  man  is  his  superior  in  lively,  gossipy  descrip- 
tion, yet  he  could,  within  his  limits,  reason  closely  and  expound 
admirably.  .  .  .  Hazlitt's  enthusiastic  appreciation  of  what  is  good 
in  letters,  his  combination  of  gusto  with  sound  theory  as  to  what  is 
excellent  in  prose  and  verse,  his  felicitous  method  of  expression,  and 
the  acuteness  that  kept  him  from  that  excessive  and  paradoxical 
admiration  which  both  Lamb  and  Coleridge  affected,  and  which  haa 
gained  many  more  pupils  than  his  own  moderation,  are  always 
present.  Nothing  better  has  ever  been  written  than  his  general 
view  of  the  subject  as  an  introduction  to  the  Lectures  on  Elizabethan 
Literature.  Of  the  famous  four  treatments  of  the  dramatists  of  the 
Bestoration — Lamb's,  Hazlitt's,  Leigh  Hunt's,  and  Macaulay's — hia 
eeems  to  me  by  far  the  best.  .  .  .  No  one  has  written  better  on 
Pope.  .  .  .  His  chapter  on  the  English  novelists  (that  is  to  say, 
those  of  the  last  century)  is  perhaps  the  best  thing  ever  written  on 
the  subject.  ...  The  'Character  of  Cobbett'  is  the  best  thing  the 
writer  ever  did  of  the  kind,  and  the  best  thing  that  has  ever  been 
written  about  Cobbett.  .  .  .  'My  First  Acquaintance  with  Poets' 
is  a  masterpiece.  ...  A  hap-hazard  catalogue  of  the  titles  of  essays 
may  not  be  very  succulent.  But  within  moderate  space  there  is 
really  no  other  means  of  indicating  the  author's  extraordinary  range 
of  subject,  and  at  the  same  time  the  pervading  excellence  of  his 
treatment.  ...  In  criticism  of  English  literature,  he  is  for  the 
critic  a  subject  never  to  be  wearied  of,  always  to  be  profited  by. 
His  very  aberrations  are  often  more  instructive  than  other  men's 
right-goings  ;  and  if  he  sometimes  fails  to  detect  or  acknowledge  a 
beauty,  he  never  praises  a  defect.  .  .  .  The  fact  is  that  he  was  a 
born  man  of  letters,  and  that  he  could  not  help  turning  everything 


MEMOIR  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT.  Ixv 

he  touched  into  literature.  .  .  .  He  was  not,  as  it  seems  to  me,  quite 
at  home  in  very  short  papers — in  papers  of  the  length  of  the  average 
newspaper  article.  What  he  could  do,  as  hardly  any  other  man  has 
ever  done  in  England,  was  a  causerie  of  about  the  same  length  as 
Sainte-Beuve's,  or  a  little  shorter,  less  limited  in  range,  but  also  less 
artificially  proportioned,  than  the  great  Frenchman's  literary  and 
historical  studies,  giving  scope  for  considerable  digression,  but 
coming  to  an  end  before  the  author  was  wearied  of  his  subject,  or 
had  exhausted  the  fresh  thoughts  and  the  happy  borrowings  and 
analogies  which  he  had  ready  for  it.  ...  Hazlitt  must  have  been, 
one  of  the  most  uncomfortable  of  all  English  men  of  letters,  who 
can  be  called  great,  to  know  as  a  friend.  He  is  certainly,  to  those 
who  know  him  only  as  readers,  one  of  the  most  fruitful  both  in 
instruction  and  delight." 


NOTE  ON  THE  PORTRAIT. 

The  history  of  the  portrait  prefixed  to  this  volume  is  as  follows : — In 
1824  Hazlitt  visited  Glasgow,  and,  while  lecturing  there,  was  introduced 
to  a  club  devoted  to  the  study  of  Shakespeare.  A  young  artist,  named 
Bewick  (not  belonging  to  the  Newcastle  Bewicks),  also  a  member  of  this 
club,  made  a  sketch  of  Hazlitt,  an  engraving  from  which,  thirteen  years  later, 
was  prefixed  to  the  Literary  Remains,  edited  by  his  son.  Another  member 
of  the  club,  also  an  artist,  made  a  copy  of  the  original  sketch.  Not  altogether 
satisfied  with  the  expression  of  the  features,  he  endeavoured  to  improve 
it  by  adding  a  few  touches  of  his  own,  which  made  the  likeness  a  decidedly 
more  successful  rendering  of  the  living  man.  About  ten  or  twelve  years 
ago  I  heard  of  this  improved  sketch  through  a  friend  who  knew  the  artist, 
then  an  old  man  (since  dead).  He  allowed  a  photographic  copy  of  it  to  be 
taken  for  me,  and  it  is  from  this  copy  that  the  present  portrait  has  been 
engraved.  If  the  two  portraits  are  compared — viz.,  the  one  facing  the 
title-page,  with  the  one  prefixed  to  the  Literary  Remains — the  former 
impresses  one  with  a  much  higher  sense  of  the  intellectual  power  and 
expression  indicated  in  Hazlitt's  features,  than  the  latter.  My  friend, 
Mrs.  Mary  Cowden  Clarke  (still  living),  who  knew  Hazlitt  during  the 
last  few  years  of  his  life,  assures  me  that  the  likeness  is  an  excellent  one, 
as  she  well  remembers  his  features  and  general  expression. 


SELECTIONS 


FROM   THE 


WRITINGS  OF  WILLIAM  HAZLITT. 


[17te  Eloquence  of  the  British  Senate  ;  or,  Select  Specimens  from  the  Speeches 
of  the  Most  Distinguished  Parliamentary  Speakers,  from  the  beginning 
of  the  Reign  of  Charles  the  First  to  the  Present  Time,  with  Notes,  Bio- 
graphical, Critical,  and  Explanatory.  In  2  vols.,  1807.] 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE. 

[Originally  appeared  in  The  Eloquence  of  the  British  Senate,  reprinted  in 
Political  Essays,  with  Sketches  of  Public  Characters,  1819,  with  the  following 
note  :  ' '  This  character  was  written  in  a  fit  of  extravagant  candour  at  a  time 
when  I  thought  I  could  do  justice,  or  more  than  justice,  to  an  enemy,  without 
betraying  a  cause."  It  is  included,  along  with  the  characters  of  Fox,  Pitt, 
and  Lord  Chatham,  in  one  of  the  volumes  of  Bell  &  Sons'  edition  of  Hazlitt's 
principal  works,  1872.] 

THEBE  is  no  single  speech  of  Mr.  Burke  which  can  convey  a  satis- 
factory idea  of  his  powers  of  mind :  to  do  him  justice,  it  would  be 
necessary  to  quote  all  his  works ;  the  only  specimen  of  Burke  is,  all 
that  he  wrote.  With  respect  to  most  other  speakers,  a  specimen  is 
generally  enough,  or  more  than  enough.  When  you  are  acquainted 
with  their  manner,  and  see  what  proficiency  they  have  made  in  the 
mechanical  exercise  of  their  profession,  with  what  facility  they  can 
borrow  a  simile,  or  round  a  period,  how  dexterously  they  can  argue, 
and  object,  and  rejoin,  you  are  satisfied ;  there  is  no  other  difference 
in  their  speeches  than  what  arises  from  the  difference  of  the  sub- 
jects. But  this  was  not  the  case  with  Burke.  He  brought  his 


1  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

subjects  along  with  him ;  he  drew  his  materials  from  himself.  The 
only  limits  which  circumscribed  his  variety  were  the  stores  of  his 
own  mind.  His  stock  of  ideas  did  not  consist  of  a  few  meagre  facts, 
meagrely  stated,  of  half  a  dozen  commonplaces  tortured  into  a 
thousand  different  ways;  but  his  mine  of  wealth  was  a  profound 
understanding,  inexhaustible  as  the  human  heart,  and  various  as  the 
sources  of  human  nature.  He  therefore  enriched  every  subject  to 
which  he  applied  himself,  and  new  subjects  were  only  the  occasions 
of  calling  forth  fresh  powers  of  mind  which  had  not  been  before 
exerted.  It  would  therefore  be  in  vain  to  look  for  the  proof  of  his 
powers  in  any  one  of  his  speeches  or  writings :  they  all  contain  some 
additional  proof  of  power.  In  speaking  of  Burke,  then,  I  shall 
speak  of  the  whole  compass  and  circuit  of  his  mind — not  of  that 
small  part  or  section  of  him  which  I  have  been  able  to  give ;  to  do 
otherwise  would  be  like  the  story  of  the  man  who  put  the  brick  in 
his  pocket,  thinking  to  show  it  as  the  model  of  a  house.  I  have 
been  able  to  manage  pretty  well  with  respect  to  all  my  other 
speakers,  and  curtailed  them  down  without  remorse.  It  was  easy  to 
reduce  them  within  certain  limits,  to  fix  their  spirit,  and  condense 
their  variety ;  by  having  a  certain  quantity  given,  you  might  infer 
all  the  rest ;  it  was  only  the  same  thing  over  again.  But  who  can 
bind  Proteus,  or  confine  the  roving  flight  of  genius  ? 

Burke's  writings  are  better  than  his  speeches,  and  indeed  his 
speeches  are  writings.  But  he  seemed  to  feel  himself  more  at  ease, 
to  have  a  fuller  possession  of  his  faculties  in  addressing  the  public, 
than  in  addressing  the  House  of  Commons.  Burke  was  raised  into 
public  life ;  and  he  seems  to  have  been  prouder  of  this  new  dignity 
than  became  so  great  a  man.  For  this  reason,  most  of  his  speeches 
have  a  sort  of  parliamentary  preamble  to  them :  he  seems  fond  of 
coquetting  with  the  House  of  Commons,  and  is  perpetually  calling 
the  Speaker  out  to  dance  a  minuet  with  him  before  he  begins. 
There  is  also  something  like  an  attempt  to  stimulate  the  superficial 
dulness  of  his  hearers  by  exciting  their  surprise,  by  running  into 
extravagance :  and  he  sometimes  demeans  himself  by  condescending 
to  what  may  be  considered  as  bordering  too  much  upon  buffoonery, 
for  the  amusement  of  the  company.  Those  lines  of  Milton  were 
admirably  applied  to  him  by  some  one — "The  elephant  to  make 
them  sport  wreathed  his  proboscis  lithe."  The  truth  is,  that  he 
was  out  of  his  place  in  the  House  of  Commons  ;  he  was  eminently 
qualified  to  shine  as  a  man  of  genius,  as  the  instructor  of  mankind, 
as  the  brightest  luminary  of  his  age ;  but  he  had  nothing  in  common 
with  that  motley  crew  of  knights,  citizens,  and  burgesses.  He  could 
not  be  said  to  be  "  native  and  endued  unto  that  element."  He  was 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  3 

above  it ;  and  never  appeared  like  himself,  but  when,  forgetful  of 
the  idle  clamours  of  party,  and  of  the  little  views  of  little  men,  he 
applied  to  his  country  and  the  enlightened  judgment  of  mankind. 

I  am  not  going  to  make  an  idle  panegyric  on  Burke  (he  has  no 
need  of  it) ;  but  I  cannot  help  looking  upon  him  as  the  chief  boast 
and  ornament  of  the  English  House  of  Commons.  What  has  been 
said  of  him  is,  I  think,  strictly  true,  that "  he  was  the  most  eloquent 
man  of  his  time :  his  wisdom  was  greater  than  his  eloquence."  The 
only  public  man  that  in  my  opinion  can  be  put  in  any  competition 
with  him,  is  Lord  Chatham ;  and  he  moved  in  a  sphere  so  very 
remote,  that  it  is  almost  impossible  to  compare  them.  But  though 
it  would  perhaps  be  difficult  to  determine  which  of  them  excelled 
most  in  his  particular  way,  there  is  nothing  in  the  world  more  easy 
than  to  point  out  in  what  their  peculiar  excellences  consisted.  They 
were  in  every  respect  the  reverse  of  each  other.  Chatham's  eloquence 
was  popular :  his  wisdom  was  altogether  plain  and  practical.  Burke's 
eloquence  was  that  of  the  poet ;  of  the  man  of  high  and  unbounded 
fancy:  his  wisdom  was  profound  and  contemplative.  Chatham's 
eloquence  was  calculated  to  make  men  act :  Burke's  was  calculated 
to  make  them  think.  Chatham  could  have  roused  the  fury  of  a 
multitude,  and  wielded  their  physical  energy  as  he  pleased :  Burke's 
eloquence  carried  conviction  into  the  mind  of  the  retired  and  lonely 
student,  opened  the  recesses  of  the  human  breast,  and  lighted  up 
the  face  of  nature  around  him.  Chatham  supplied  his  hearers  with 
motives  to  immediate  action :  Burke  furnished  them  with  reasons  for 
action  which  might  have  little  effect  upon  them  at  the  time,  but  for 
which  they  would  be  the  wiser  and  better  all  their  lives  after.  In 
research,  in  originality,  in  variety  of  knowledge,  in  richness  of  inven- 
tion, in  depth  and  comprehension  of  mind,  Burke  had  as  much  the 
advantage  of  Lord  Chatham  as  he  was  excelled  by  him  in  plain 
common  sense,  in  strong  feeling,  in  steadiness  of  purpose,  in  vehe- 
mence, in  warmth,  in  enthusiasm,  and  energy  of  mind.  Burke  was 
the  man  of  genius,  of  fine  sense,  and  subtle  reasoning;  Chatham 
was  a  man  of  clear  understanding,  of  strong  sense,  and  violent 
passions.  Burke's  mind  was  satisfied  with  speculation :  Chatham's 
was  essentially  active;  it  could  not  rest  without  an  object.  The 
power  which  governed  Burke's  mind  was  his  Imagination ;  that 
which  gave  its  impetus  to  Chatham  was  Will.  The  one  was  almost 
the  creature  of  pure  intellect,  the  other  of  physical  temperament. 

There  are  two  very  different  ends  which  a  man  of  genius  may  pro- 
pose to  himself,  either  in  writing  or  speaking,  and  which  will  accord- 
ingly give  birth  to  very  different  styles.  He  can  have  but  one  of  these 
two  objects;  either  to  enrich  or  strengthen  the  mind;  either  to 


4  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

furnish  us  with  new  ideas,  to  lead  the  mind  into  new  trains  of 
thought,  to  which  it  was  before  unused,  and  which  it  was  incapable 
of  striking  out  for  itself;  or  else  to  collect  and  embody  what  we 
already  knew,  to  rivet  our  old  impressions  more  deeply ;  to  make 
what  was  before  plain  still  plainer,  and  to  give  to  that  which  was 
familiar  all  the  effect  of  novelty.  In  the  one  case  we  receive  an 
accession  to  the  stock  of  our  ideas;  in  the  other,  an  additional 
degree  of  life  and  energy  is  infused  into  them :  our  thoughts  con- 
tinue to  flow  in  the  same  channels,  but  their  pulse  is  quickened  and 
invigorated.  I  do  not  know  how  to  distinguish  these  different 
styles  better  than  by  calling  them  severally  the  inventive  and  refined, 
or  the  impressive  and  vigorous  styles.  It  is  only  the  subject-matter 
of  eloquence,  however,  which  is  allowed  to  be  remote  or  obscure. 
The  things  themselves  may  be  subtle  and  recondite,  but  they  must 
be  dragged  out  of  their  obscurity  and  brought  struggling  to  the 
light ;  they  must  be  rendered  plain  and  palpable  (as  far  as  it  is  in 
the  wit  of  man  to  do  so),  or  they  are  no  longer  eloquence.  That 
which  by  its  natural  impenetrability,  and  in  spite  of  every  effort, 
remains  dark  and  difficult,  which  is  impervious  to  every  ray,  on 
which  the  imagination  can  shed  no  lustre,  which  can  be  clothed  with 
no  beauty,  is  not  a  subject  for  the  orator  or  poet.  At  the  same  time 
it  cannot  be  expected  that  abstract  truths  or  profound  observations 
should  ever  be  placed  in  the  same  strong  and  dazzling  points  of 
view  as  natural  objects  and  mere  matters  of  fact.  It  is  enough  if 
they  receive  a  reflex  and  borrowed  lustre,  like  that  which  cheers 
the  first  dawn  of  morning,  where  the  effect  of  surprise  and  novelty 
gilds  every  object,  and  the  joy  of  beholding  another  world  gradually 
emerging  out  of  the  gloom  of  night,  "  a  new  creation  rescued  from 
his  reign,"  fills  the  mind  with  a  sober  rapture.  Philosophical 
eloquence  is  in  writing  what  chiaro-scuro  is  in  painting ;  he  would  be 
a  fool  who  should  object  that  the  colours  in  the  shaded  part  of  a 
picture  were  not  so  bright  as  those  on  the  opposite  side ;  the  eye  of 
the  connoisseur  receives  an  equal  delight  from  both,  balancing  the 
want  of  brilliancy  and  effect  with  the  greater  delicacy  of  the  tints, 
and  difficulty  of  the  execution.  In  judging  of  Burke,  therefore,  we 
are  to  consider,  first,  the  style  of  eloquence  which  he  adopted,  and, 
secondly,  the  effects  which  he  produced  with  it.  If  he  did  not  pro- 
duce the  same  effects  on  vulgar  minds  as  some  others  have  done,  it 
was  not  for  want  of  power,  but  from  the  turn  and  direction  of  his 
mind.  It  was  because  his  subjects,  his  ideas,  his  arguments,  were 
less  vulgar.  The  question  is  not  whether  he  brought  certain  truths 
equally  home  to  us,  but  how  much  nearer  he  brought  them  than 
they  were  before.  In  my  opinion,  he  united  the  two  extremes  of 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  5 

refinement  and  strength  in  a  higher  degree  than  any  other  writer 
whatever. 

The  subtlety  of  his  mind  was  undoubtedly  that  which  rendered 
Burke  a  less  popular  writer  and  speaker  than  he  otherwise  would 
have  been.  It  weakened  the  impression  of  his  observations  upon 
others,  but  I  cannot  admit  that  it  weakened  the  observations  them- 
selves ;  that  it  took  anything  from  their  real  weight  or  solidity. 
Coarse  minds  think  all  that  is  subtle,  futile :  that  because  it  is 
not  gross  and  obvious  and  palpable  to  the  senses,  it  is  therefore 
light  and  frivolous,  and  of  no  importance  in  the  real  affairs  of  life  ; 
thus  making  their  own  confined  understandings  the  measure  of 
truth,  and  supposing  that  whatever  they  do  not  distinctly  perceive, 
is  nothing.  Seneca,  who  was  not  one  of  the  vulgar,  also  says,  that 
subtle  truths  are  those  which  have  the  least  substance  in  them, 
and  consequently  approach  nearest  to  nonentity.  But  for  my  own 
part  I  cannot  help  thinking  that  the  most  important  truths  must 
be  the  most  refined  and  subtle ;  for  that  very  reason,  that  they 
must  comprehend  a  great  number  of  particulars,  and  instead  of 
referring  to  any  distinct  or  positive  fact,  must  point  out  the  com- 
bined effects  of  an  extensive  chain  of  causes,  operating  gradually, 
remotely,  and  collectively,  and  therefore  imperceptibly.  General 
principles  are  not  the  less  true  or  important  because  from  their 
nature  they  elude  immediate  observation ;  they  are  like  the  air, 
which  is  not  the  less  necessary  because  we  neither  see  nor  feel  it, 
or  like  that  secret  influence  which  binds  the  world  together,  and 
holds  the  planets  in  their  orbits.  The  very  same  persons  who  are 
the  most  forward  to  laugh  at  all  systematic  reasoning  as  idle  and 
impertinent,  you  will  the  next  moment  hear  exclaiming  bitterly 
against  the  baleful  effects  of  new-fangled  systems  of  philosophy,  or 
gravely  descanting  on  the  immense  importance  of  instilling  sound 
principles  of  morality  into  the  mind.  It  would  not  be  a  bold  con- 
jecture, but  an  obvious  truism,  to  say,  that  all  the  great  changes 
which  have  been  brought  about  in  the  mortal  world,  either  for  the 
better  or  worse,  have  been  introduced,  not  by  the  bare  statement 
of  facts,  which  are  things  already  known,  and  which  must  always 
operate  nearly  in  the  same  manner,  but  by  the  development  of 
certain  opinions  and  abstract  principles  of  reasoning  on  life  and 
manners,  on  the  origin  of  society  and  man's  nature  in  general, 
which  being  obscure  and  uncertain,  vary  from  time  to  time,  and 
produce  corresponding  changes  in  the  human  mind.  They  are  the 
wholesome  dew  and  rain,  or  the  mildew  and  pestilence  that  silently 
destroy.  To  this  principle  of  generalisation  all  wise  law-givers,  and 
the  systems  of  philosophers,  owe  their  influence. 


6  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

It  has  always  been  with  me  a  test  of  the  sense  and  candour  of  any 
one  belonging  to  the  opposite  party,  whether  he  allowed  Burke  to 
be  a  great  man.  Of  all  the  persons  of  this  description  that  I  have 
ever  known,  I  never  met  with  above  one  or  two  who  would  make 
this  concession ;  whether  it  was  that  party  feelings  ran  too  high  to 
admit  of  any  real  candour,  or  whether  it  was  owing  to  an  essential 
vulgarity  in  their  habits  of  thinking,  they  all  seemed  to  be  of 
opinion  that  he  was  a  wild  enthusiast,  or  a  hollow  sophist,  who 
was  to  be  answered  by  bits  of  facts,  by  smart  logic,  by  shrewd 
questions,  and  idle  songs.  They  looked  upon  him  as  a  man  of  dis- 
ordered intellects,  because  he  reasoned  in  a  style  to  which  they  had 
not  been  used,  and  which  confounded  their  dim  perceptions.  If 
you  said  that  though  you  differed  with  him  in  sentiment,  yet  you 
thought  him  an  admirable  reasoner,  and  a  close  observer  of  human 
nature,  you  were  answered  with  a  loud  laugh,  and  some  hackneyed 
quotation.  "Alas!  Leviathan  was  not  so  tamed!"  They  did  not 
know  whom  they  had  to  contend  with.  The  corner-stone,  which 
the  builders  rejected,  became  the  head-corner,  though  to  the  Jews 
a  stumbling-block,  and  to  the  Greeks  foolishness;  for,  indeed,  I 
cannot  discover  that  he  was  much  better  understood  by  those  of 
his  own  party,  if  we  may  judge  from  the  little  affinity  there  is 
between  his  mode  of  reasoning  and  theirs.  The  simple  clue  to  all 
his  reasonings  on  politics  is,  I  think,  as  follows.  He  did  not  agree 
with  some  writers  that  that  mode  of  government  is  necessarily  the 
best  which  is  the  cheapest.  He  saw  in  the  construction  of  society 
other  principles  at  work,  and  other  capacities  of  fulfilling  the  desires, 
and  perfecting  the  nature  of  man,  'besides  those  of  securing  the 
equal  enjoyment  of  the  means  of  animal  life,  and  doing  this  at  as 
little  expense  as  possible.  He  thought  that  the  wants  and  happi- 
ness of  men  were  not  to  be  provided  for,  as  we  provide  for  those  of 
a  herd  of  cattle,  merely  by  attending  to  their  physical  necessities. 
He  thought  more  nobly  of  his  fellows.  He  knew  that  man  had 
affections  and  passions  and  powers  of  imagination,  as  well  as  hunger 
and  thirst,  and  the  sense  of  heat  and  cold.  He  took  his  idea  of  poli- 
tical society  from  the  pattern  of  private  life,  wishing,  as  he  himself 
expresses  it,  to  incorporate  the  domestic  charities  with  the  orders 
of  the  state,  and  to  blend  them  together.  He  strove  to  establish 
an  analogy  between  the  compact  that  binds  together  the  community 
at  large,  and  that  which  binds  together  the  several  families  that 
compose  it.  He  knew  that  the  rules  that  form  the  basis  of  private 
morality  are  not  founded  in  reason,  that  is,  in  the  abstract  pro- 
perties of  those  things  which  are  the  subjects  of  them,  but  in  the 
nature  of  man,  and  his  capacity  of  being  affected  by  certain  things 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  7 

from  habit,  from  imagination,  and  sentiment,  as  well    as  from 
reason. 

Thus,  the  reason  why  a  man  ought  to  be  attached  to  his  wife 
and  children  is  not,  surely,  that  they  are  better  than  others  (for 
in  this  case  every  one  else  ought  to  be  of  the  same  opinion),  but 
because  he  must  be  chiefly  interested  in  those  things  which  are 
nearest  to  him,  and  with  which  he  is  best  acquainted,  since  his 
understanding  cannot  reach  equally  to  everything ;  because  he  must 
be  most  attached  to  those  objects  which  he  has  known  the  longest, 
and  which  by  their  situation  have  actually  affected  him  the  most, 
not  those  which  in  themselves  are  the  most  affecting  whether  they 
have  ever  made  any  impression  on  him  or  no ;  that  is,  because  he 
is  by  his  nature  the  creature  of  habit  and  feeling,  and  because  it  is 
reasonable  that  he  should  act  hi  conformity  to  his  nature.  Burke 
was  so  far  right  in  saying  that  it  is  no  objection  to  an  institution 
that  it  is  founded  in  prejudice,  but  the  contrary,  if  that  prejudice 
is  natural  and  right ;  that  is,  if  it  arises  from  those  circumstances 
which  are  properly  subjects  of  feeling  and  association,  not  from  any 
defect  or  perversion  of  the  understanding  in  those  things  which  fall 
strictly  under  its  jurisdiction.  On  this  profound  maxim  he  took  his 
stand.  Thus  he  contended,  that  the  prejudice  in  favour  of  nobility 
was  natural  and  proper,  and  fit  to  be  encouraged  by  the  positive 
institutions  of  society :  not  on  account  of  the  real  or  personal  merit 
of  the  individuals,  but  because  such  an  institution  has  a  tendency 
to  enlarge  and  raise  the  mind,  to  keep  alive  the  memory  of  past 
greatness,  to  connect  the  different  ages  of  the  world  together,  to 
carry  back  the  imagination  over  a  long  tract  of  time,  and  feed  it 
with  the  contemplation  of  remote  events :  because  it  is  natural  to 
think  highly  of  that  which  inspires  us  with  high  thoughts,  which 
has  been  connected  for  many  generations  with  splendour,  and 
affluence,  and  dignity,  and  power,  and  privilege.  He  also  conceived, 
that  by  transferring  the  respect  from  the  person  to  the  thing,  and 
thus  rendering  it  steady  and  permanent,  the  mind  would  be  habitu- 
ally formed  to  sentiments  of  deference,  attachment,  and  fealty,  to 
whatever  else  demanded  its  respect :  that  it  would  be  led  to  fix  its 
view  on  what  was  elevated  and  lofty,  and  be  weaned  from  that  low 
and  narrow  jealousy  which  never  willingly  or  heartily  admits  of  any 
superiority  in  others,  and  is  glad  of  every  opportunity  to  bring  down 
all  excellence  to  a  level  with  its  own  miserable  standard.  Nobility 
did  not,  therefore,  exist  to  the  prejudice  of  the  other  orders  of  the 
state,  but  by,  and  for  them.  The  inequality  of  the  different  orders 
of  society  did  not  destroy  the  unity  and  harmony  of  the  whole. 
The  health  and  well-being  of  the  moral  world  was  to  be  promoted 


8  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

by  the  same  means  as  the  beauty  of  the  natural  world ;  by  contrast, 
by  change,  by  light  and  shade,  by  variety  of  parts,  by  order  and 
proportion.  To  think  of  reducing  all  mankind  to  the  same  insipid 
level,  seemed  to  him  the  same  absurdity  as  to  destroy  the  inequalities 
of  surface  in  a  country,  for  the  benefit  of  agriculture  and  commerce. 
In  short,  he  believed  that  the  interests  of  men  in  society  should  be 
consulted,  and  their  several  stations  and  employments  assigned,  with 
a  view  to  their  nature,  not  as  physical,  but  as  moral  beings,  so  as  to 
nourish  their  hopes,  to  lift  their  imagination,  to  enliven  their  fancy, 
to  rouse  their  activity,  to  strengthen  their  virtue,  and  to  furnish 
the  greatest  number  of  objects  of  pursuit,  and  means  of  enjoyment 
to  beings  constituted  as  man  is,  consistently  with  the  order  and 
stability  of  the  whole. 

The  same  reasoning  might  be  extended  farther.  I  do  not  say 
that  his  arguments  are  conclusive ;  but  they  are  profound  and  true, 
as  far  as  they  go.  There  may  be  disadvantages  and  abuses  neces- 
sarily interwoven  with  his  scheme,  or  opposite  advantages  of  in- 
finitely greater  value,  to  be  derived  from  another  order  of  things 
and  state  of  society.  This,  however,  does  not  invalidate  either  the 
truth  or  importance  of  Burke's  reasoning ;  since  the  advantages  he 
points  out  as  connected  with  the  mixed  form  of  government  are 
really  and  necessarily  inherent  in  it :  since  they  are  compatible,  in 
the  same  degree,  with  no  other ;  since  the  principle  itself  on  which 
he  rests  his  argument  (whatever  we  may  think  of  the  application) 
is  of  the  utmost  weight  and  moment ;  and  since,  on  whichever  side 
the  truth  lies,  it  is  impossible  to  make  a  fair  decision  without 
having  the  opposite  side  of  the  question  clearly  and  fully  stated  to 
us.  This  Burke  has  done  in  a  masterly  manner.  He  presents  to 
you  one  view  or  face  of  society.  Let  him  who  thinks  he  can,  give 
the  reverse  side  with  equal  force,  beauty,  and  clearness.  It  is  said, 
I  know,  that  truth  is  one;  but  to  this  I  cannot  subscribe,  for  it 
appears  to  me  that  truth  is  many.  There  are  as  many  truths  as 
there  are  things  and  causes  of  action  and  contradictory  principles 
at  work  in  society.  In  making  up  the  account  of  good  and  evil, 
indeed,  the  final  result  must  be  one  way  or  the  other ;  but 
the  particulars  on  which  that  result  depends  are  infinite  and 
various. 

It  will  be  seen  from  what  I  have  said,  that  I  am  very  far  from 
agreeing  with  those  who  think  that  Burke  was  a  man  without 
understanding,  and  a  merely  florid  writer.  There  are  two  causes 
which  have  given  rise  to  this  calumny ;  namely,  that  narrowness 
of  mind  which  leads  men  to  suppose  that  the  truth  lies  entirely  on 
the  side  of  their  own  opinions,  and  that  whatever  does  not  make 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  9 

for  them  is  absurd  and  irrational ;  secondly,  a  trick  we  have  of 
confounding  reason  with  judgment,  and  supposing  that  it  is  merely 
the  province  of  the  understanding  to  pronounce  sentence,  and  not 
to  give  evidence,  or  argue  the  case ;  in  short,  that  it  is  a  passive, 
not  an  active  faculty.  Thus  there  are  persons  who  never  run  into 
any  extravagance,  because  they  are  so  buttressed  up  with  the 
opinions  of  others  on  all  sides,  that  they  cannot  lean  much  to  one 
side  or  the  other ;  they  are  so  little  moved  with  any  kind  of  reason- 
ing, that  they  remain  at  an  equal  distance  from  every  extreme,  and 
are  never  very  far  from  the  truth,  because  the  slowness  of  their  facul- 
ties will  not  suffer  them  to  make  much  progress  in  error.  These 
are  persons  of  great  judgment.  The  scales  of  the  mind  are  pretty 
sure  to  remain  even,  when  there  is  nothing  in  them.  In  this  sense 
of  the  word,  Burke  must  be  allowed  to  have  wanted  judgment,  by 
all  those  who  think  that  he  was  wrong  in  his  conclusions.  The 
accusation  of  want  of  judgment,  in  fact,  only  means  that  you  your- 
self are  of  a  different  opinion.  But  if  in  arriving  at  one  error  he 
discovered  a  hundred  truths,  I  should  consider  myself  a  hundred 
times  more  indebted  to  him  than  if,  stumbling  on  that  which  I 
consider  as  the  right  side  of  the  question,  he  had  committed  a 
hundred  absurdities  in  striving  to  establish  his  point.  I  speak  of 
him  now  merely  as  an  author,  or  as  far  as  I  and  other  readers  are 
concerned  with  him ;  at  the  same  time,  I  should  not  differ  from 
any  one  who  may  be  disposed  to  contend  that  the  consequences  of 
his  writings  as  instruments  of  political  power  have  been  tremendous, 
fatal,  such  as  no  exertion  of  wit  or  knowledge  or  genius  can  ever 
counteract  or  atone  for. 

Burke  also  gave  a  hold  to  his  antagonists  by  mixing  up  sentiment 
and  imagery  with  his  reasoning ;  so  that,  being  unused  to  such 
a  sight  in  the  region  of  politics,  they  were  deceived,  and  could  not 
discern  the  fruit  from  the  flowers.  Gravity  is  the  cloak  of  wisdom ; 
and  those  who  have  nothing  else  think  it  an  insult  to  affect  the  one 
without  the  other,  because  it  destroys  the  only  foundation  on  which 
their  pretensions  are  built.  The  easiest  part  of  reason  is  dulness  ; 
the  generality  of  the  world  are  therefore  concerned  in  discouraging 
any  example  of  unnecessary  brilliancy  that  might  tend  to  show  that 
the  two  things  do  not  always  go  together.  Burke  in  some  measure 
dissolved  the  spell.  It  was  discovered,  that  his  gold  was  not  the 
less  valuable  for  being  wrought  into  elegant  shapes,  and  richly 
embossed  with  curious  figures ;  that  the  solidity  of  a  building  is 
not  destroyed  by  adding  to  it  beauty  and  ornament ;  and  that  the 
strength  of  a  man's  understanding  is  not  always  to  be  estimated 
in  exact  proportion  to  his  want  of  imagination.  His  understand- 


jo          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

ing  was  not  the  less  real,  because  it  was  not  the  only  faculty  he 
possessed.  He  justified  the  description  of  the  poet — 

"  How  charming  is  divine  philosophy  ! 
Not  harsh  and  crabbed  as  dull  fools  suppose, 
But  musical  as  is  Apollo's  lute  !  " 

Those  who  object  to  this  union  of  grace  and  beauty  with  reason, 
are  in  fact  weak-sighted  people,  who  cannot  distinguish  the  noble 
and  majestic  form  of  Truth  from  that  of  her  sister  Folly,  if  they  are 
dressed  both  alike !  But  there  is  always  a  difference  even  in  the 
adventitious  ornaments  they  wear,  which  is  sufficient  to  distinguish 
them. 

Burke  was  so  far  from  being  a  gaudy  or  flowery  writer,  that  he 
was  one  of  the  severest  writers  we  have.  His  words  are  the  most 
like  things  ;  his  style  is  the  most  strictly  suited  to  the  subject.  He 
unites  every  extreme  and  every  variety  of  composition  ;  the  lowest 
and  the  meanest  words  and  descriptions  with  the  highest.  He 
exults  in  the  display  of  power,  in  showing  the  extent,  the  force, 
and  intensity  of  his  ideas ;  he  is  led  on  by  the  mere  impulse  and 
vehemence  of  his  fancy,  not  by  the  affectation  of  dazzling  his 
readers  by  gaudy  conceits  or  pompous  images.  He  was  completely 
carried  away  by  his  subject.  He  had  no  other  object  but  to  pro- 
duce the  strongest  impression  on  his  reader,  by  giving  the  truest, 
the  most  characteristic,  the  fullest,  and  most  forcible  description  of 
things,  trusting  to  the  power  of  his  own  mind  to  mould  them  into 
grace  and  beauty.  He  did  not  produce  a  splendid  effect  by  setting 
fire  to  the  light  vapours  that  float  in  the  regions  of  fancy,  as  the 
chemists  make  fine  colours  with  phosphorus,  but  by  the  eagerness 
of  his  blows  struck  fire  from  the  flint,  and  melted  the  hardest 
substances  in  the  furnace  of  his  imagination.  The  wheels  of  his 
imagination  did  not  catch  fire  from  the  rottenness  of  the  materials, 
but  from  the  rapidity  of  their  motion.  One  would  suppose,  to  hear 
people  talk  of  Burke,  that  his  style  was  such  as  would  have  suited 
the  Lady's  Magazine;  soft,  smooth,  showy,  tender,  insipid,  full  of 
fine  words,  without  any  meaning.  The  essence  of  the  gaudy  or 
glittering  style  consists  in  producing  a  momentary  effect  by  fine 
words  and  images  brought  together,  without  order  or  connection. 
Burke  most  frequently  produced  an  effect  by  the  remoteness  and 
novelty  of  his  combinations,  by  the  force  of  contrast,  by  the  striking 
manner  in  which  the  most  opposite  and  unpromising  materials 
were  harmoniously  blended  together ;  not  by  laying  his  hands  on 
all  the  fine  things  he  could  think  of,  but  by  bringing  together  those 
things  which  he  knew  would  blaze  out  into  glorious  light  by  their 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  11 

collision.  The  florid  style  is  a  mixture  of  affectation  and  common- 
place. Burke's  was  an  union  of  untameable  vigour  and  originality. 

Burke  was  not  a  verbose  writer.  If  he  sometimes  multiplies 
words,  it  is  not  for  want  of  ideas,  but  because  there  are  no  words 
that  fully  express  his  ideas,  and  he  tries  to  do  it  as  well  as  he  can  by 
different  ones.  He  had  nothing  of  the  set  or  formal  style,  the 
measured  cadence,  and  stately  phraseology  of  Johnson,  and  most  of 
our  modern  writers.  This  style,  which  is  what  we  understand  by 
the  artificial,  is  all  in  one  key.  It  selects  a  certain  set  of  words  to 
represent  all  ideas  whatever,  as  the  most  dignified  and  elegant,  and 
excludes  all  others  as  low  and  vulgar.  The  words  are  not  fitted  to 
the  things,  but  the  things  to  the  words.  Everything  is  seen  through 
a  false  medium.  It  is  putting  a  mask  on  the  face  of  nature,  which 
may  indeed  hide  some  specks  and  blemishes,  but  takes  away  all 
beauty,  delicacy,  and  variety.  It  destroys  all  dignity  or  elevation  f 
because  nothing  can  be  raised  where  all  is  on  a  level,  and  completely 
destroys  all  force,  expression,  truth,  and  character,  by  arbitrarily 
confounding  the  differences  of  things,  and  reducing  everything  to 
the  same  insipid  standard.  To  suppose  that  this  stiff  uniformity 
can  add  anything  to  real  grace  or  dignity,  is  like  supposing 
that  the  human  body,  in  order  to  be  perfectly  graceful,  should 
never  deviate  from  its  upright  posture.  Another  mischief  of  this 
method  is,  that  it  confounds  all  ranks  in  literature.  Where  there  is 
no  room  for  variety,  no  discrimination,  no  nicety  to  be  shown  iu 
matching  the  idea  with  its  proper  word,  there  can  be  no  room  for 
taste  or  elegance.  A  man  must  easily  learn  the  art  of  writing,  when 
every  sentence  is  to  be  cast  in  the  same  mould :  where  he  is  only 
allowed  the  use  of  one  word  he  cannot  choose  wrong,  nor  will  he 
be  in  much  danger  of  making  himself  ridiculous  by  affectation  or 
false  glitter,  when,  whatever  subject  he  treats  of,  he  must  treat  of 
it  in  the  same  way.  This  indeed  is  to  wear  golden  chains  for  the 
sake  of  ornament. 

Burke  was  altogether  free  from  the  pedantry  which  I  have  here 
endeavoured  to  expose.  His  style  was  as  original,  as  expressive, 
as  rich  and  varied,  as  it  was  possible;  his  combinations  were  as 
exquisite,  as  playful,  as  happy,  as  unexpected,  as  bold  and  daring,  as 
his  fancy.  If  anything,  he  ran  into  the  opposite  extreme  of  too 
great  an  inequality,  if  truth  and  nature  could  ever  be  carried  to  an 
extreme. 

Those  who  are  best  acquainted  with  the  writings  and  speeches 
of  Burke  will  not  think  the  praise  I  have  here  bestowed  on  them 
exaggerated.  Some  proof  will  be  found  of  this  in  the  following 
extracts.  But  the  full  proof  must  be  sought  in  his  works  at  large, 


12  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

and  particularly  in  the  Thoughts  on  the  Discontents;  in  his  Reflections 
on  the  French  Revolution ;  in  his  Letter  to  the  Duke  of  Bedford;  and 
in  the  Regicide  Peace.  The  two  last  of  these  are  perhaps  the  most 
remarkable  of  all  his  writings,  from  the  contrast  they  afford  to  each 
other.  The  one  is  the  most  delightful  exhibition  of  wild  and  brilliant 
fancy  that  is  to  be  found  in  English  prose,  but  it  is  too  much  like 
a  beautiful  picture  painted  upon  gauze;  it  wants  something  to 
support  it :  the  other  is  without  ornament,  but  it  has  all  the  solidity, 
the  weight,  the  gravity  of  a  judicial  record.  It  seems  to  have  been 
written  with  a  certain  constraint  upon  himself,  and  to  show  those 
who  said  he  could  not  reason,  that  his  arguments  might  be  stripped 
of  their  ornaments  without  losing  anything  of  their  force.  It  is 
certainly,  of  all  his  works,  that  in  which  he  has  shown  most  power 
of  logical  deduction,  and  the  only  one  in  which  he  has  made  any 
important  use  of  facts.  In  general  he  certainly  paid  little  attention 
to  them :  they  were  the  playthings  of  his  mind.  He  saw  them  as 
he  pleased,  not  as  they  were ;  with  the  eye  of  the  philosopher  or  the 
poet,  regarding  them  only  in  their  general  principle,  or  as  they  might 
serve  to  decorate  his  subject.  This  is  the  natural  consequence  of 
much  imagination :  things  that  are  probable  are  elevated  into  the 
rank  of  realities.  To  those  who  can  reason  on  the  essences  of  things, 
or  who  can  invent  according  to  nature,  the  experimental  proof  is  of 
little  value.  This  was  the  case  with  Burke.  In  the  present  instance, 
however,  he  seems  to  have  forced  his  mind  into  the  service  of  facts ; 
and  he  succeeded  completely.  His  comparison  between  our  connec- 
tion with  France  or  Algiers,  and  his  account  of  the  conduct  of  the 
war,  are  as  clear,  as  convincing,  as  forcible  examples  of  this  kind  of 
reasoning,  as  are  anywhere  to  be  met  with.  Indeed  I  do  not  think 
there  is  anything  in  Fox  (whose  mind  was  purely  historical)  or  in 
Chatham  (who  attended  to  feelings  more  than  facts),  that  will  bear 
a  comparison  with  them. 

Burke  has  been  compared  to  Cicero — I  do  not  know  for  what 
reason.  Their  excellences  are  as  different,  and  indeed  as  opposite, 
as  they  can  well  be.  Burke  had  not  the  polished  elegance,  the 
glossy  neatness,  the  artful  regularity,  the  exquisite  modulation  of 
Cicero :  he  had  a  thousand  times  more  richness  and  originality  of 
mind,  more  strength  and  pomp  of  diction. 

It  has  been  well  observed,  that  the  ancients  had  no  word  that 
properly  expresses  what  we  mean  by  the  word  genius.  They  perhaps 
had  not  the  thing.  Their  minds  appear  to  have  been  too  exact,  too 
retentive,  too  minute  and  subtle,  too  sensible  to  the  external  differ- 
ences of  things,  too  passive  under  their  impressions,  to  admit  of  those 
bold  and  rapid  combinations,  those  lofty  flights  of  fancy,  which, 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  13 

glancing  from  heaven  to  earth,  unite  the  most  opposite  extremes, 
and  draw  the  happiest  illustrations  from  things  the  most  remote. 
Their  ideas  were  kept  too  confined  and  distinct  by  the  material  form 
or  vehicle  in  which  they  were  conveyed,  to  unite  cordially  together, 
or  be  melted  down  in  the  imagination.  Their  metaphors  are  taken 
from  things  of  the  same  class,  not  from  things  of  different  classes ; 
the  general  analogy,  not  the  individual  feeling,  directs  them  in  their 
choice.  Hence,  as  Dr.  Johnson  observed,  their  similes  are  either 
repetitions  of  the  same  idea,  or  so  obvious  and  general  as  not  to 
lend  any  additional  force  to  it ;  as  when  a  huntress  is  compared  to 
Diana,  or  a  warrior  rushing  into  battle  to  a  lion  rushing  on  his  prey. 
Their  forte  was  exquisite  art  and  perfect  imitation.  Witness  their 
statues  and  other  things  of  the  same  kind.  But  they  had  not  that 
high  and  enthusiastic  fancy  which  some  of  our  own  writers  have 
shown.  For  the  proof  of  this,  let  any  one  compare  Milton  and 
Shakspeare  with  Homer  and  Sophocles,  or  Burke  with  Cicero. 

It  may  be  asked  whether  Burke  was  a  poet.  He  was  so  only  in 
the  general  vividness  of  his  fancy,  and  in  richness  of  invention. 
There  may  be  poetical  passages  in  his  works,  but  I  certainly  think 
that  his  writings  in  general  are  quite  distinct  from  poetry ;  and  that 
for  the  reason  before  given,  namely,  that  the  subject-matter  of  them 
is  not  poetical.  The  finest  part  of  them  are  illustrations  or  per- 
sonifications of  dry  abstract  ideas ; l  and  the  union  between  the  idea 
and  the  illustration  is  not  of  that  perfect  and  pleasing  kind  as  to 
constitute  poetry,  or  indeed  to  be  admissible,  but  for  the  effect 
intended  to  be  produced  by  it ;  that  is,  by  every  means  in  our  power 
to  give  animation  and  attraction  to  subjects  in  themselves  barren 
of  ornament,  but  which  at  the  same  time  are  pregnant  with  the 
most  important  consequences,  and  in  which  the  understanding  and 
the  passions  are  equally  interested. 

I  have  heard  it  remarked  by  a  person,  to  whose  opinion  I  would 
sooner  submit  than  to  a  general  council  of  critics,  that  the  sound 
of  Burke's  prose  is  not  musical;  that  it  wants  cadence;  and  that 
instead  of  being  so  lavish  of  his  imagery  as  is  generally  supposed, 
he  seemed  to  him  to  be  rather  parsimonious  in  the  use  of  it,  always 
expanding  and  making  the  most  of  his  ideas.  This  may  be  true  if 
we  compare  him  with  some  of  our  poets,  or  perhaps  with  some  of 
our  early  prose  writers,  but  not  if  we  compare  him  with  any  of  our 
political  writers  or  parliamentary  speakers.  There  are  some  very 
fine  things  of  Lord  Bolingbroke's  on  the  same  subjects,  but  not 

1  As  in  the  comparison  of  the  British  Constitution  to  the  "proud  keep  of 
Windsor,"  &c.,  the  most  splendid  passage  in  his  works. 


14          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

equal  to  Burke's.  As  for  Junius,  he  is  at  the  head  of  his  class: 
but  that  class  is  not  the  highest.  He  has  been  said  to  have  more 
dignity  than  Burke.  Yes — if  the  stalk  of  a  giant  is  less  dignified 
than  the  strut  of  a  petit-maitre.  I  do  not  mean  to  speak  disrespect- 
fully of  Junius,  but  grandeur  is  not  the  character  of  his  composition ; 
and  if  it  is  not  to  be  found  in  Burke,  it  is  to  be  found  nowhere. 


LATER  REMARKS  ON  BURKE. 

[The  following,  under  the  heading  "Character  of  Mr.  Burke,"  dated 
October  5,  1817,  appeared  in  Political  Essays  and  Sketches  of  Public  Char- 
acters, 1819.] 

IT  is  not  without  reluctance  that  we  speak  of  the  vices  and  infir- 
mities of  such  a  mind  as  Burke's :  but  the  poison  of  high  example 
has  by  far  the  widest  range  of  destruction :  and,  for  the  sake  of 
public  honour  and  individual  integrity,  we  think  it  right  to  say, 
that  however  it  may  be  defended  upon  other  grounds,  the  political 
career  of  that  eminent  individual  has  no  title  to  the  praise  of  con- 
sistency. Mr.  Burke,  the  opponent  of  the  American  war,  and  Mr. 
Burke,  the  opponent  of  the  French  Revolution,  are  not  the  same 
person,  but  opposite  persons — not  opposite  persons  only,  but  deadly 
enemies.  In  the  latter  period,  he  abandoned  not  only  all  his  prac- 
tical conclusions,  but  all  the  principles  on  which  they  were  founded. 
He  proscribed  all  his  former  sentiments,  denounced  all  his  former 
friends,  rejected  and  reviled  all  the  maxims  to  which  he  had  formerly 
appealed  as  incontestable.  In  the  American  war,  he  constantly 
spoke  of  the  rights  of  the  people  as  inherent,  and  inalienable :  after 
the  French  Revolution,  he  began  by  treating  them  with  the  chicanery 
of  a  sophist,  and  ended  by  raving  at  them  with  the  fury  of  a  maniac. 
In  the  former  case,  he  held  out  the  duty  of  resistance  to  oppression, 
as  the  palladium  and  only  ultimate  resource  of  natural  liberty ;  in 
the  latter,  he  scouted,  prejudged,  vilified  and  nicknamed,  all  resistance 
in  the  abstract,  as  a  foul  and  unnatural  union  of  rebellion  and 
sacrilege.  In  the  one  case,  to  answer  the  purposes  of  faction,  he 
made  it  out,  that  the  people  are  always  in  the  right ;  in  the  other, 
to  answer  different  ends,  he  made  it  out  that  they  are  always  in  the 
wrong — lunatics  in  the  hands  of  their  royal  keepers,  patients  in  the 
sick-wards  of  an  hospital,  or  felons  in  the  condemned  cells  of  a  prison. 
In  the  one,  he  considered  that  there  was  a  constant  tendency  on 
the  part  of  the  prerogative  to  encroach  on  the  rights  of  the  people, 
which  ought  always  to  be  the  object  of  the  most  watchful  jealousy, 
and  of  resistance,  when  necessary:  in  the  other,  he  pretended  to 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  15 

regard  it  as  the  sole  occupation  and  ruling  passion  of  those  in  power, 
to  watch  over  the  liberties  and  happiness  of  their  subjects.  The 
burthen  of  all  his  speeches  on  the  American  war,  was  conciliation, 
concession,  timely  reform,  as  the  only  practicable  or  desirable  alterna- 
tive of  rebellion :  the  object  of  all  his  writings  on  the  French  Revolu- 
tion was,  to  deprecate  and  explode  all  concession  and  all  reform,  as 
encouraging  rebellion,  and  as  an  irretrievable  step  to  revolution  and 
anarchy.  In  the  one,  he  insulted  kings  personally,  as  among  the 
lowest  and  worst  of  mankind ;  in  the  other,  he  held  them  up  to  the 
imagination  of  his  readers,  as  sacred  abstractions.  In  the  one  case, 
he  was  a  partisan  of  the  people,  to  court  popularity ;  in  the  other, 
to  gain  the  favour  of  the  Court,  he  became  the  apologist  of  all  courtly 
abuses.  In  the  one  case,  he  took  part  with  those  who  were  actually 
rebels  against  his  Sovereign :  in  the  other,  he  denounced  as  rebels 
and  traitors,  all  those  of  his  own  countrymen  who  did  not  yield 
sympathetic  allegiance  to  a  foreign  Sovereign,  whom  we  had  always 
been  in  the  habit  of  treating  as  an  arbitrary  tyrant. 

Nobody  will  accuse  the  principles  of  his  present  Majesty,  or  the 
general  measures  of  his  reign,  of  inconsistency.  If  they  had  no 
other  merit,  they  have,  at  least,  that  of  having  been  all  along 
actuated  by  one  uniform  and  constant  spirit :  yet  Mr.  Burke  at 
one  time  vehemently  opposed,  and  afterwards  most  intemperately 
extolled  them :  and  it  was  for  his  recanting  his  opposition,  not  for 
his  persevering  in  it,  that  he  received  his  pension.  He  does  not 
himself  mention  his  flaming  speeches  on  the  American  war,  as  among 
the  public  services  which  had  entitled  him  to  this  remuneration. 

The  truth  is,  that  Burke  was  a  man  of  fine  fancy  and  subtle  reflec- 
tion ;  but  not  of  sound  and  practical  judgment,  nor  of  high  or  rigid 
principles. — As  to  his  understanding,  he  certainly  was  not  a  great 
philosopher ;  for  his  works  of  mere  abstract  reasoning  are  shallow 
and  inefficient : — nor  was  he  a  man  of  sense  and  business ;  for,  both 
in  counsel  and  in  conduct,  he  alarmed  his  friends  as  much  at  least 
as  his  opponents : — but  he  was  an  acute  and  accomplished  man  of 
letters — an  ingenious  political  essayist.  He  applied  the  habit  of 
reflection,  which  he  had  borrowed  from  his  metaphysical  studies,  but 
which  was  not  competent  to  the  discovery  of  any  elementary  truth 
in  that  department,  with  great  facility  and  success,  to  the  mixed 
mass  of  human  affairs.  He  knew  more  of  the  political  machine  than 
a  recluse  philosopher;  and  he  speculated  more  profoundly  on  its 
principles  and  general  results  than  a  mere  politician.  He  saw  a 
number  of  fine  distinctions  and  changeable  aspects  of  things,  the 
good  mixed  with  the  ill,  and  the  ill  mixed  with  the  good ;  and  with 
a  sceptical  indifference,  in  which  the  exercise  of  his  own  ingenuity 

F 


16          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

was  obviously  the  governing  principle,  suggested  various  topics  to 
qualify  or  assist  the  judgment  of  others.  But  for  this  very  reason, 
he  was  little  calculated  to  become  a  leader  or  a  partisan  in  any 
important  practical  measure.  For  the  habit  of  his  mind  would  lead 
him  to  find  out  a  reason  for  or  against  anything :  and  it  is  not  on 
speculative  refinements  (which  belong  to  every  side  of  a  question), 
but  on  a  just  estimate  of  the  aggregate  mass  and  extended  com- 
binations of  objections  and  advantages,  that  we  ought  to  decide  or 
act.  Burke  had  the  power  of  throwing  true  or  false  weights  into 
the  scales  of  political  casuistry,  but  not  firmness  of  mind  (or,  shall  we 
say,  honesty  enough)  to  hold  the  balance.  When  he  took  a  side,  his 
vanity  or  his  spleen  more  frequently  gave  the  casting  vote  than  his 
judgment ;  and  the  fieriness  of  his  zeal  was  in  exact  proportion  to  the 
levity  of  his  understanding,  and  the  want  of  conscious  sincerity. 

He  was  fitted  by  nature  and  habit  for  the  studies  and  labours  of 
the  closet ;  and  was  generally  mischievous  when  he  came  out ;  because 
the  very  subtlety  of  his  reasoning,  which,  left  to  itself,  would  have 
counteracted  its  own  activity,  or  found  its  level  in  the  common  sense 
of  mankind,  became  a  dangerous  engine  in  the  hands  of  power, 
which  is  always  eager  to  make  use  of  the  most  plausible  pretexts  to 
cover  the  most  fatal  designs.  That  which,  if  applied  as  a  general 
observation  on  human  affairs,  is  a  valuable  truth  suggested  to  the 
mind,  may,  when  forced  into  the  interested  defence  of  a  particular 
measure  or  system,  become  the  grossest  and  basest  sophistry.  Facts 
or  consequences  never  stood  in  the  way  of  this  speculative  politician. 
He  fitted  them  to  his  preconceived  theories,  instead  of  conforming 
his  theories  to  them.  They  were  the  playthings  of  his  style,  the 
sport  of  his  fancy.  They  were  the  straws  of  which  his  imagination 
made  a  blaze,  and  were  consumed,  like  straws,  in  the  blaze  they 
had  served  to  kindle.  The  fine  things  he  said  about  Liberty  and 
Humanity,  in  his  speech  on  the  Begum's  affairs,  told  equally  well, 
whether  Warren  Hastings  was  a  tyrant  or  not :  nor  did  he  care  one 
jot  who  caused  the  famine  he  described,  so  that  he  described  it  in  a 
way  that  no  one  else  could.  On  the  same  principle,  he  represented 
the  French  priests  and  nobles  under  the  old  regime  as  excellent 
moral  people,  very  charitable  and  very  religious,  in  the  teeth  of 
notorious  facts, — to  answer  to  the  handsome  things  he  had  to  say 
in  favour  of  priesthood  and  nobility  in  general ;  and,  with  similar 
views,  he  falsifies  the  records  of  our  English  Revolution,  and  puts  an 
interpretation  on  the  word  abdication,  of  which  a  schoolboy  would 
be  ashamed.  He  constructed  his  whole  theory  of  government,  in 
short,  not  on  rational,  but  on  picturesque  and  fanciful  principles ; 
as  if  the  king's  crown  were  a  painted  gewgaw,  to  be  looked  at  on 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  BURKE.  17 

gala-days ;  titles  an  empty  sound  to  please  the  ear ;  and  the  whole 
order  of  society  a  threatrical  procession.  His  lamentations  over  the 
age  of  chivalry,  and  his  projected  crusade  to  restore  it,  are  about  as 
wise  as  if  any  one,  from  reading  the  Beggar's  Opera,  should  take  to 
picking  of  pockets:  or,  from  admiring  the  landscapes  of  Salvator 
Rosa,  should  wish  to  convert  the  abodes  of  civilised  life  into  the 
haunts  of  wild  beasts  and  banditti.  On  this  principle  of  false  refine- 
ment, there  is  no  abuse,  nor  system  of  abuses,  that  does  not  admit 
of  an  easy  and  triumphant  defence ;  for  there  is  something  which  a 
merely  speculative  inquirer  may  always  find  out,  good  as  well  as 
bad,  in  every  possible  system,  the  best  or  the  worst ;  and  if  we  can 
once  get  rid  of  the  restraints  of  common  sense  and  honesty,  we  may 
easily  prove,  by  plausible  words,  that  liberty  and  slavery,  peace  and 
war,  plenty  and  famine,  are  matters  of  perfect  indifference.  This  is 
the  school  of  politics,  of  which  Mr.  Burke  was  at  the  head ;  and  it 
is  perhaps  to  his  example,  in  this  respect,  that  we  owe  the  prevailing 
tone  of  many  of  those  newspaper  paragraphs,  which  Mr.  Coleridge 
thinks  so  invaluable  an  accession  to  our  political  philosophy. 

Burke's  literary  talents  were,  after  all,  his  chief  excellence.  His 
style  has  all  the  familiarity  of  conversation,  and  all  the  research  of 
the  most  elaborate  composition.  He  says  what  he  wants  to  say,  by 
any  means,  nearer  or  more  remote,  within  his  reach.  He  makes  use 
of  the  most  common  or  scientific  terms,  of  the  longest  or  shortest 
sentences,  of  the  plainest  and  most  downright,  or  of  the  most  figu- 
rative modes  of  speech.  He  gives  for  the  most  part  loose  reins  to 
his  imagination,  and  follows  it  as  far  as  the  language  will  carry  him. 
As  long  as  the  one  or  the  other  has  any  resources  in  store  to  make 
the  reader  feel  and  see  the  thing  as  he  has  conceived  it,  in  its  nicest 
shades  of  difference,  in  its  utmost  degree  of  force  and  splendour,  he 
never  disdains,  and  never  fails  to  employ  them.  Yet,  in  the  extremes 
of  his  mixed  style,  there  is  not  much  affectation,  and  but  little  either 
of  pedantry  or  of  coarseness.  He  everywhere  gives  the  image  he 
wishes  to  give,  in  its  true  and  appropriate  colouring :  and  it  is  the 
very  crowd  and  variety  of  these  images  that  have  given  to  his  lan- 
guage its  peculiar  tone  of  animation,  and  even  of  passion.  It  is  his 
impatience  to  transfer  his  conceptions  entire,  living,  in  all  their 
rapidity,  strength,  and  glancing  variety,  to  the  minds  of  others, 
that  constantly  pushes  him  to  the  verge  of  extravagance,  and  yet 
supports  him  there  in  dignified  security — 

"  Never  so  sure  our  rapture  to  create, 
As  when  he  treads  the  brink  of  all  we  hate." 

He  is,  with  the  exception  of  Jeremy  Taylor,  the  most  poetical  of 


18          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

our  prose  writers,  and  at  the  same  time  his  prose  never  degenerates 
into  the  mere  effeminacy  of  poetry;  for  he  always  aims  at  over- 
powering rather  than  at  pleasing ;  and  consequently  sacrifices  beauty 
and  delicacy  to  force  and  vividness.  He  has  invariably  a  task  to 
perform,  a  positive  purpose  to  execute,  an  effect  to  produce.  His 
only  object  is  therefore  to  strike  hard,  and  in  the  right  place ;  if  he 
misses  his  mark,  he  repeats  his  blow ;  and  does  not  care  how  un- 
graceful the  action,  or  how  clumsy  the  instrument,  provided  it  brings 
down  his  antagonist. 


THE  CHAKACTEE  OF  FOX. 

[Originally  appeared  in  the  Eloquence  of  the  British  Senate,  2  vols.,  1807, 
reprinted  in  Political  Essays,  with  Sketches  of  Public  Characters,  1819,  and  is 
included  in  one  of  the  volumes  of  Bell  &  Sons'  edition  of  Hazlitt's  principal 
works  1872.] 

I  SHALL  begin  with  observing  generally,  that  Mr.  Fox  excelled  all 
his  contemporaries  in  the  extent  of  his  knowledge,  in  the  clearness 
and  distinctness  of  his  views,  in  quickness  of  apprehension,  in  plain 
practical  common  sense,  in  the  full,  strong,  and  absolute  possession 
of  his  subject.  A  measure  was  no  sooner  proposed  than  he  seemed 
to  have  an  instantaneous  and  intuitive  perception  of  its  various 
bearings  and  consequences ;  of  the  manner  in  which  it  would  operate 
on  the  different  classes  of  society,  on  commerce  or  agriculture,  on 
our  domestic  or  foreign  policy ;  of  the  difficulties  attending  its  exe- 
cution ;  in  a  word,  of  all  its  practical  results,  and  the  comparative 
advantages  to  be  gained  either  by  adopting  or  rejecting  it.  He  was 
intimately  acquainted  with  the  interests  of  the  different  parts  of 
the  community,  with  the  minute  and  complicated  details  of  political 
economy,  with  our  external  relations,  with  the  views,  the  resources, 
and  the  maxims  of  other  states.  He  was  master  of  all  those  facts 
and  circumstances  which  it  was  necessary  to  know  in  order  to  judge 
fairly  and  determine  wisely ;  and  he  knew  them  not  loosely  or  lightly, 
but  in  number,  weight,  and  measure.  He  had  also  stored  his 
memory  by  reading  and  general  study,  and  improved  his  under- 
standing by  the  lamp  of  history.  He  was  well  acquainted  with 
the  opinions  and  sentiments  of  the  best  authors,  with  the  maxims 
of  the  most  profound  politicians,  with  the  causes  of  the  rise  and  fall 
of  states,  with  the  general  passions  of  men,  with  the  characters  of 
different  nations,  and  the  laws  and  constitution  of  his  own  country. 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  FOX.  19 

He  was  a  man  of  large,  capacious,  powerful,  and  highly  cultivated 
intellect.  No  man  could  know  more  than  he  knew;  no  man's 
knowledge  could  be  more  sound,  more  plain  and  useful ;  no  man's 
knowledge  could  lie  in  more  connected  and  tangible  masses ;  no  man 
could  be  more  perfectly  master  of  his  ideas,  could  reason  upon  them 
more  closely,  or  decide  upon  them  more  impartially.  His  mind 
was  full,  even  to  overflowing.  He  was  so  habitually  conversant 
with  the  most  intricate  and  comprehensive  trains  of  thought,  or 
such  was  the  natural  vigour  and  exuberance  of  his  mind,  that  he 
seemed  to  recall  them  without  any  effort.  His  ideas  quarrelled  for 
utterance.  So  far  from  ever  being  at  a  loss  for  them,  he  was  obliged 
rather  to  repress  and  rein  them  in,  lest  they  should  overwhelm  and 
confound,  instead  of  informing  the  understandings  of  his  hearers. 

If  to  this  we  add  the  ardour  and  natural  impetuosity  of  his  mind, 
his  quick  sensibility,  his  eagerness  in  the  .defence  of  truth,  and  his 
impatience  of  everything  that  looked  like  trick  or  artifice  or  affecta- 
tion, we  shall  be  able  in  some  measure  to  account  for  the  character 
of  his  eloquence.  His  thoughts  came  crowding  in  too  fast  for  the 
slow  and  mechanical  process  of  speech.  What  he  saw  in  an  instant, 
he  could  only  express  imperfectly,  word  by  word,  and  sentence  after 
sentence.  He  would,  if  he  could,  "  have  bared  his  swelling  heart," 
and  laid  open  at  once  the  rich  treasures  of  knowledge  with  which 
his  bosom  was  fraught.  It  is  no  wonder  that  this  difference  between 
the  rapidity  of  his  feelings,  and  the  formal  round-about  method  of 
communicating  them,  should  produce  some  disorder  in  his  frame ; 
that  the  throng  of  his  ideas  should  try  to  overleap  the  narrow 
boundaries  which  confined  them,  and  tumultuously  break  down 
their  prison-doors,  instead  of  waiting  to  be  let  out  one  by  one, 
and  following  patiently  at  due  intervals  and  with  mock  dignity,  like 
poor  dependents,  in  the  train  of  words ;  that  he  should  express  him- 
self in  hurried  sentences,  in  involuntary  exclamations,  by  vehement 
gestures,  by  sudden  starts  and  bursts  of  passion.  Everything  showed 
the  agitation  of  his  mind.  His  tongue  faltered,  his  voice  became 
almost  suffocated,  and  his  face  was  bathed  in  tears.  He  was  lost  in 
the  magnitude  of  his  subject.  He  reeled  and  staggered  under  the 
load  of  feeling  which  oppressed  him.  He  rolled  like  the  sea  beaten 
by  a  tempest.  Whoever,  having  the  feelings  of  a  man,  compared 
him  at  these  times  with  his  boasted  rival — his  stiff,  straight,  upright 
figure,  his  gradual  contortions,  turning  round  as  if  moved  by  a  pivot, 
his  solemn  pauses,  his  deep  tones,  "  whose  sound  reverbed  their  own 
hollowness,"  must  have  said,  This  is  a  man  ;  that  is  an  automaton. 
If  Fox  had  needed  grace,  he  would  have  had  it ;  but  it  was  not  the 
character  of  his  mind,  nor  would  it  have  suited  with  the  style  of  his 


20          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

eloquence.  It  was  Pitt's  object  to  smooth  over  the  abruptness  and 
intricacies  of  his  argument  by  the  gracefulness  of  his  manner,  and 
to  fix  the  attention  of  his  hearers  on  the  pomp  and  sound  of  his 
words.  Lord  Chatham,  again,  strove  to  command  others ;  he  did  not 
try  to  convince  them,  but  to  overpower  their  understandings  by  the 
greater  strength  and  vehemence  of  his  own  ;  to  awe  them  by  a  sense 
of  personal  superiority :  and  he  therefore  was  obliged  to  assume 
a  lofty  and  dignified,  manner.  It  was  to  him  they  bowed,  not  to 
truth ;  and  whatever  related  to  himself,  must  therefore  have  a  tendency 
to  inspire  respect  and  admiration.  Indeed,  he  would  never  have  at- 
tempted to  gain  that  ascendant  over  men's  minds  that  he  did,  if 
either  his  mind  or  body  had  been  different  from  what  they  were ;  if 
his  temper  had  not  urged  him  to  control  and  command  others,  or  if 
his  personal  advantages  had  not  enabled  him  to  secure  that  kind  of 
authority  which  he  coveted.  But  it  would  have  been  ridiculous  in 
Fox  to  have  affected  either  the  smooth  plausibility,  the  stately  gravity 
of  the  one,  or  the  proud  domineering,  imposing  dignity  of  the  other ; 
or  even  if  he  could  have  succeeded,  it  would  only  have  injured  the 
effect  of  his  speeches.  What  he  had  to  rely  on  was  the  strength, 
the  solidity  of  his  ideas,  his  complete  and  thorough  knowledge  of 
his  subject.  It  was  his  business  therefore  to  fix  the  attention  of  his 
hearers,  not  on  himself,  but  on  his  subject ;  to  rivet  it  there,  to  hurry 
it  on  from  words  to  things : — the  only  circumstance  of  which  they 
required  to  be  convinced  with  respect  to  himself,  was  the  sincerity 
of  his  opinions ;  and  this  would  be  best  done  by  the  earnestness  of 
his  manner,  by  giving  a  loose  to  his  feelings,  and  by  showing  the 
most  perfect  forgetf ulness  of  himself,  and  of  what  others  thought  of 
him.  The  moment  a  man  shows  you  either  by  affected  words  or 
looks  or  gestures,  that  he  is  thinking  of  himself,  and  you,  that  he  is 
trying  either  to  please  or  terrify  you  into  compliance,  there  is  an 
end  at  once  to  that  kind  of  eloquence  which  owes  its  effect  to  the 
force  of  truth,  and  to  your  confidence  in  the  sincerity  of  the  speaker. 
It  was,  however,  to  the  confidence  inspired  by  the  earnestness  and 
simplicity  of  his  manner,  that  Mr.  Fox  was  indebted  for  more  than 
half  the  effect  of  his  speeches.  Some  others  might  possess  nearly  as 
much  information,  as  exact  a  knowledge  of  the  situation  and  interests 
of  the  country ;  but  they  wanted  that  zeal,  that  animation,  that 
enthusiasm,  that  deep  sense  of  the  importance  of  the  subject,  which 
removes  all  doubt  or  suspicion  from  the  minds  of  the  hearers,  and 
communicates  its  own  warmth  to  every  breast.  We  may  convince 
by  argument  alone ;  but  it  is  by  the  interest  we  discover  in  the  suc- 
cess of  our  reasonings,  that  we  persuade  others  to  feel  and  act  with 
us.  There  are  two  circumstances  which  Fox's  speeches  and  Lord 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  FOX.  21 

Chatham's  had  in  common :  they  are  alike  distinguished  by  a  kind 
of  plain  downright  common  sense,  and  by  the  vehemence  of  their 
manner.  But  still  there  is  a  great  difference  between  them,  in  both 
these  respects.  Fox  in  his  opinions  was  governed  by  facts — Chatham 
was  more  influenced  by  the  feelings  of  others  respecting  those  facts. 
Fox  endeavoured  to  find  out  what  the  consequences  of  any  measure 
would  be ;  Chatham  attended  more  to  what  people  would  think  of 
it.  Fox  appealed  to  the  practical  reason  of  maakind ;  Chatham  to 
popular  prejudice.  The  one  repelled  the  encroachments  of  power 
by  supplying  his  hearers  with  arguments  against  it ;  the  other  by 
rousing  their  passions  and  arming  their  resentment  against  those 
who  would  rob  them  of  their  birthright.  Their  vehemence  and  im- 
petuosity arose  also  from  very  different  feelings.  In  Chatham  it  was 
pride,  passion,  self-will,  impatience  of  control,  a  determination  to 
have  his  own  way,  to  carry  everything  before  him ;  in  Fox  it  was 
pure,  good  nature,  a  sincere  love  of  truth,  an  ardent  attachment  to 
what  he  conceived  to  be  right ;  an  anxious  concern  for  the  welfare 
and  liberties  of  mankind.  Or  if  we  suppose  that  ambition  had 
taken  a  strong  hold  of  both  their  minds,  yet  their  ambition  was  of 
a  very  different  kind :  in  the  one  it  was  the  love  of  power,  in  the 
other  it  was  the  love  of  fame.  Nothing  can  be  more  opposite  than 
these  two  principles,  both  in  their  origin  and  tendency.  The  one 
originates  in  a  selfish,  haughty,  domineering  spirit ;  the  other  in  a 
social  and  generous  sensibility,  desirous  of  the  love  and  esteem  of 
others,  and  anxiously  bent  upon  gaining  merited  applause.  The  one 
grasps  at  immediate  power  by  any  means  within  its  reach :  the  other, 
if  it  does  not  square  its  actions  by  the  rules  of  virtue,  at  least  refers 
them  to  a  standard  which  comes  the  nearest  to  it — the  disinterested 
applause  of  our  country,  and  the  enlightened  judgment  of  posterity. 
The  love  of  fame  is  consistent  with  the  steadiest  attachment  to 
principle,  and  indeed  strengthens  and  supports  it ;  whereas  the  love 
of  power,  where  this  is  the  ruling  passion,  requires  the  sacrifice  of 
principle,  at  every  turn,  and  is  inconsistent  even  with  the  shadow 
of  it.  I  do  not  mean  to  say  that  Fox  had  no  love  of  power,  or 
Chatham  no  love  of  fame  (this  would  be  reversing  all  we  know  of 
human  nature),  but  that  the  one  principle  predominated  in  the  one, 
and  the  other  in  the  other.  My  reader  will  do  me  great  injustice  if 
he  supposes  that  in  attempting  to  describe  the  characters  of  different 
speakers  by  contrasting  their  general  qualities,  I  mean  anything  be- 
yond the  more  or  less  :  but  it  is  necessary  to  describe  those  qualities 
simply  and  in  the  abstract,  in  order  to  make  the  distinction  intelli- 
gible. Chatham  resented  any  attack  made  upon  the  cause  of  liberty, 
of  which  he  was  the  avowed  champion,  as  an  indignity  offered  to 


22  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

himself.  Fox  felt  it  as  a  stain  upon  the  honour  of  his  country,  and 
as  an  injury  to  the  rights  of  his  fellow-citizens.  The  one  was  swayed 
by  his  own  passions  and  purposes,  with  very  little  regard  to  the  con- 
sequences ;  the  sensibility  of  the  other  was  roused,  and  his  passions 
kindled  into  a  generous  flame,  by  a  real  interest  in  whatever  related 
to  the  welfare  of  mankind,  and  by  an  intense  and  earnest  contempla- 
tion of  the  consequences  of  the  measures  he  opposed.  It  was  this 
union  of  the  zeal  of  the  patriot  with  the  enlightened  knowledge  of 
the  statesman,  that  gave  to  the  eloquence  of  Fox  a  more  than  mortal 
energy ;  that  warmed,  expanded,  penetrated  every  bosom.  He  relied 
on  the  force  of  truth  and  nature  alone ;  the  refinements  of  philo- 
sophy, the  pomp  and  pageantry  of  the  imagination  were  forgotten, 
or  seemed  light  and  frivolous ;  the  fate  of  nations,  the  welfare  of 
millions,  hung  suspended  as  he  spoke ;  a  torrent  of  manly  eloquence 
poured  from  his  heart,  bore  down  everything  in  its  course,  and 
surprised  into  a  momentary  sense  of  human  feeling  the  breathing 
corpses,  the  wire-moved  puppets,  the  stuffed  figures,  the  flexible 
machinery,  the  "  deaf  and  dumb  things  "  of  a  court. 

I  find  (I  do  not  know  how  the  reader  feels)  that  it  is  difficult  to 
write  a  character  of  Fox  without  running  into  insipidity  or  extrava- 
gance. And  the  reason  of  this  is,  there  are  no  splendid  contrasts, 
no  striking  irregularities,  no  curious  distinctions  to  work  upon ;  no 
"  jutting  frieze,  buttress,  nor  coigne  of  Vantage,"  for  the  imagination 
to  take  hold  of.  It  was  a  plain  marble  slab,  inscribed  in  plain  legible 
characters,  without  either  hieroglyphics  or  carving.  There  was  the 
same  directness  and  manly  simplicity  in  everything  that  he  did. 
The  whole  of  his  character  may  indeed  be  summed  up  in  two  words 
— strength  and  simplicity.  Fox  was  in  the  class  of  common  men, 
but  he  was  the  first  in  that  class.  Though  it  is  easy  to  describe  the 
differences  of  things,  nothing  is  more  difficult  than  to  describe  their 
degrees  or  quantities.  In  what  I  am  going  to  say,  I  hope  I  shall 
not  be  suspected  of  a  design  to  underrate  his  powers  of  mind,  when 
in  fact  I  am  only  trying  to  ascertain  their  nature  and  direction.  The 
degree  and  extent  to  which  he  possessed  them  can  only  be  known 
by  reading,  or  indeed  by  having  heard  his  speeches. 

His  mind,  as  I  have  already  said,  was,  I  conceive,  purely  historical; 
and  having  said  this,  I  have,  I  believe,  said  all.  But  perhaps  it  will 
be  necessary  to  explain  a  little  further  what  I  mean.  I  mean,  then, 
that  his  memory  was  in  an  extraordinary  degree  tenacious  of  facts ; 
that  they  were  crowded  together  in  his  mind  without  the  least  per- 
plexity or  confusion ;  that  there  was  no  chain  of  consequences  too 
vast  for  his  powers  of  comprehension ;  that  the  different  parts  and 
ramifications  of  his  subject  were  never  so  involved  and  intricate  but 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  FOX.  23 

that  they  were  easily  disentangled  in  the  clear  prism  of  his  under- 
standing. The  basis  of  his  wisdom  was  experience:  he  not  only 
knew  what  had  happened,  but  by  an  exact  knowledge  of  the  real 
state  of  things,  he  could  always  tell  what  in  the  common  course  of 
events  would  happen  in  future.  The  force  of  his  mind  was  exerted 
on  facts :  as  long  as  he  could  lean  directly  upon  these,  as  long  as  he 
had  the  actual  objects  to  refer  to,  to  steady  himself  by,  he  could 
analyse,  he  could  combine,  he  could  compare  and  reason  upon  them, 
with  the  utmost  exactness ;  but  he  could  not  reason  out  of  them. 
He  was  what  is  understood  by  a  matter-of-fact  reasoner.  He  was 
better  acquainted  with  the  concrete  masses  of  things,  their  sub- 
stantial forms  and  practical  connections,  than  with  their  abstract 
nature  or  general  definitions.  He  was  a  man  of  extensive  informa- 
tion, of  sound  knowledge,  and  clear  understanding,  rather  than  the 
acute  observer  or  profound  thinker.  He  was  the  man  of  business, 
the  accomplished  statesman,  rather  than  the  philosopher.  His 
reasonings  were,  generally  speaking,  calculations  of  certain  positive 
results,  which,  the  data  being  given,  must  follow  as  matters  of  course, 
rather  than  unexpected  and  remote  truths  drawn  from  a  deep  insight 
into  human  nature,  and  the  subtle  application  of  general  principles 
to  particular  cases.  They  consisted  chiefly  in  the  detail  and  com- 
bination of  a  vase  number  of  items  in  an  account,  worked  by  the 
known  rules  of  political  arithmetic ;  not  in  the  discovery  of  bold, 
comprehensive,  and  original  theorems  in  the  science.  They  were 
rather  acts  of  memory,  of  continued  attention,  of  a  power  of  bring- 
ing all  his  ideas  to  bear  at  once  upon  a  single  point,  than  of  reason 
or  invention.  He  was  the  attentive  observer  who  watches  the 
various  effects  and  successive  movements  of  a  machine  already  con- 
structed, and  can  tell  how  to  manage  it  while  it  goes  on  as  it  has 
always  done ;  but  who  knows  little  or  nothing  of  the  principles  on 
which  it  is  constructed,  nor  how  to  set  it  right,  if  it  becomes  dis- 
ordered, except  by  the  most  common  and  obvious  expedients.  Burke 
was  to  Fox  what  the  geometrician  is  to  the  mechanic.  Much  has 
been  said  of  the  "prophetic  mind  "  of  Mr.  Fox.  The  same  epithet 
has  been  applied  to  Mr.  Burke,  till  it  has  become  proverbial.  It 
has,  I  think,  been  applied  without  much  reason  to  either.  Fox 
wanted  the  scientific  part.  Burke  wanted  the  practical.  Fox 
had  too  little  imagination,  Burke  had  too  much :  that  is,  he  was 
careless  of  facts,  and  was  led  away  by  his  passions  to  look  at  one 
side  of  a  question  only.  He  had  not  that  fine  sensibility  to  outward 
impressions,  that  nice  tact  of  circumstances,  which  is  necessary  to 
the  consummate  politician.  Indeed,  his  wisdom  was  more  that  of 
the  legislator  than  of  the  active  statesman.  They  both  tried  their 


24  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

strength  in  the  Ulysses'  bow  of  politicians,  the  French  Revolution : 
and  they  were  both  foiled.  Fox  indeed  foretold  the  success  of  the 
French  in  combating  with  foreign  powers.  But  this  was  no  more 
than  what  every  friend  of  the  liberty  of  France  foresaw  or  foretold 
as  well  as  he.  All  those  on  the  same  side  of  the  question  were 
inspired  with  the  same  sagacity  on  the  subject.  Burke,  on  the  other 
hand,  seems  to  have  been  beforehand  with  the  public  in  foreboding 
the  internal  disorders  that  would  attend  the  Revolution,  and  its  ul- 
timate failure ;  but  then  it  is  at  least  a  question  whether  he  did  not 
make  good  his  own  predictions :  and  certainly  he  saw  into  the  causes 
and  connection  of  events  much  more  clearly  after  they  had  happened 
than  before.  He  was,  however,  undoubtedly  a  profound  commen- 
tator on  that  apocalyptical  chapter  in  the  history  of  human  nature, 
which  I  do  not  think  Fox  was.  Whether  led  to  it  by  the  events  or 
not,  he  saw  thoroughly  into  the  principles  that  operated  to  produce 
them  ;  and  he  pointed  them  out  to  others  in  a  manner  which  could 
not  be  mistaken.  I  can  conceive  of  Burke,  as  the  genius  of  the  storm, 
perched  over  Paris,  the  centre  and  focus  of  anarchy  (so  he  would  have 
us  believe),  hovering  "  with  mighty  wings  outspread  over  the  abyss, 
and  rendering  it  pregnant,"  watching  the  passions  of  men  gradually 
unfolding  themselves  in  new  situations,  penetrating  those  hidden 
motives  which  hurried  them  from  one  extreme  into  another,  arrang- 
ing and  analysing  the  principles  that  alternately  pervaded  the  vast 
chaotic  mass,  and  extracting  the  elements  of  order  and  the  cement 
of  social  life  from  the  decomposition  of  all  society ;  while  Charles  Fox 
in  the  meantime  dogged  the  heels  of  the  allies  (all  the  while  calling 
out  to  them  to  stop)  with  his  sutler's  bag,  his  muster-roll,  and  army 
estimates  at  his  back.  He  said,  You  have  only  fifty  thousand  troops, 
the  enemy  have  a  hundred  thousand :  this  place  is  dismantled,  it  can 
make  no  resistance :  your  troops  were  beaten  last  year,  they  must 
therefore  be  disheartened  this.  This  is  excellent  sense  and  sound 
reasoning,  but  I  do  not  see  what  it  has  to  do  with  philosophy.  But 
why  was  it  necessary  that  Fox  should  be  a  philosopher  ?  Why,  in 
the  first  place,  Burke  was  a  philosopher,  and  Fox,  to  keep  up  with 
him,  must  be  so  too.  In  the  second  place,  it  was  necessary  in  order 
that  his  indiscreet  admirers,  who  have  no  idea  of  greatness  but  as  it 
consists  in  certain  names  and  pompous  titles,  might  be  able  to  talk 
big  about  their  patron.  It  is  a  bad  compliment  we  pay  to  our  idol 
when  we  endeavour  to  make  him  out  something  different  from  him- 
self; it  shows  that  we  are  not  satisfied  with  what  he  is.  I  have 
heard  it  said  that  he  had  as  much  imagination  as  Burke.  To  this 
extravagant  assertion  I  shall  make  what  I  conceive  to  be  a  very 
cautious  and  moderate  answer :  that  Burke  was  as  superior  to  Fox 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  FOX.  25 

in  this  respect  as  Fox  perhaps  was  to  the  first  person  you  would 
meet  in  the  street.  There  is,  in  fact,  hardly  an  instance  of  imagina- 
tion to  be  met  with  in  any  of  his  speeches ;  what  there  is,  is  of  the 
rhetorical  kind.  I  may,  however,  be  wrong.  He  might  excel  as  much 
in  profound  thought,  and  richness  of  fancy,  as  he  did  in  other  things ; 
though  I  cannot  perceive  it.  However,  when  any  one  publishes  a 
book  called  The  Beauties  of  Fox,  containing  the  original  reflections, 
brilliant  passages,  lofty  metaphors,  &c.,  to  be  found  in  his  speeches, 
without  the  detail  or  connection,  I  shall  be  very  ready  to  give  the 
point  up. 

In  logic  Fox  was  inferior  to  Pitt — indeed,  in  all  the  formalities  of 
eloquence,  in  which  the  latter  excelled  as  much  as  he  was  deficient 
in  the  soul  of  substance.  When  I  say  that  Pitt  was  siiperior  to  Fox 
in  logic,  I  mean  that  he  excelled  him  in  the  formal  division  of  the 
subject,  in  always  keeping  it  in  view,  as  far  as  he  chose ;  in  being 
able  to  detect  any  deviation  from  it  in  others ;  in  the  manage- 
ment of  his  general  topics ;  in  being  aware  of  the  mood  and  figure 
in  which  the  argument  must  move,  with  all  its  non-essentials, 
dilemmas,  and  alternatives ;  in  never  committing  himself,  nor  ever 
suffering  his  antagonist  to  occupy  an  inch  of  the  plainest  ground, 
but  under  cover  of  a  syllogism.  He  had  more  of  "  the  dazzling  fence 
of  argument,"  as  it  has  been  called.  He  was,  in  short,  better  at  his 
weapon.  But  then,  unfortunately,  it  was  only  a  dagger  of  lath  that 
the  wind  could  turn  aside ;  whereas  Fox  wore  a  good  trusty  blade, 
of  solid  metal,  and  real  execution. 

I  shall  not  trouble  myself  to  inquire  whether  Fox  was  a  man  of 
strict  virtue  and  principle ;  or  in  other  words,  how  far  he  was  one  of 
those  who  screw  themselves  up  to  a  certain  pitch  of  ideal  perfection, 
who,  as  it  were,  set  themselves  in  the  stocks  of  morality,  and  make 
mouths  at  their  own  situation.  He  was  not  one  of  that  tribe,  and  shall 
not  be  tried  by  their  self-denying  ordinances.  But  he  was  endowed 
with  one  of  the  most  excellent  natures  that  ever  fell  to  the  lot  of  any 
of  God's  creatures.  It  has  been  said,  that  "  an  honest  man's  the 
noblest  work  of  God."  There  is  indeed  a  purity,  a  rectitude,  an 
integrity  of  heart,  a  freedom  from  every  selfish  bias  and  sinister 
motive,  a  manly  simplicity  and  noble  disinterestedness  of  feeling, 
which  is  in  my  opinion  to  be  preferred  before  every  other  gift  of 
nature  or  art.  There  is  a  greatness  of  soul  that  is  superior  to  all 
the  brilliancy  of  the  understanding.  This  strength  of  moral  char- 
acter, which  is  not  only  a  more  valuable  but  a  rarer  quality  than 
strength  of  understanding  (as  we  are  oftener  led  astray  by  the 
narrowness  of  our  feelings,  than  want  of  knowledge),  Fox  possessed 
in  the  highest  degree.  He  was  superior  to  every  kind  of  jealousy, 


26  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

of  suspicion,  of  malevolence ;  to  every  narrow  and  sordid  motive. 
He  was  perfectly  above  every  species  of  duplicity,  of  low  art  and 
cunning.  He  judged  of  everything  in  the  downright  sincerity  of 
his  nature,  without  being  able  to  impose  upon  himself  by  any 
hollow  disguise,  or  to  lend  his  support  to  anything  unfair  or  dis- 
honourable. He  had  an  innate  love  of  truth,  of  justice,  of  probity, 
of  whatever  was  generous  or  liberal.  Neither  his  education,  nor 
his  connections,  nor  his  situation  in  life,  nor  the  low  intrigues  and 
virulence  of  party,  could  ever  alter  the  simplicity  of  his  taste,  nor 
the  candid  openness  of  his  nature.  There  was  an  elastic  force  about 
his  heart,  a  freshness  of  social  feeling,  a  warm  glowing  humanity, 
which  remained  unimpaired  to  the  last.  He  was  by  nature  a 
gentleman.  By  this  I  mean  that  he  felt  a  certain  deference  and 
respect  for  the  person  of  every  man ;  he  had  an  unaffected  frank- 
ness and  benignity  in  his  behaviour  to  others,  the  utmost  liberality 
in  judging  of  their  conduct  and  motives.  A  refined  humanity  con- 
stitutes the  character  of  a  gentleman.  He  was  the  true  friend  of 
his  country,  as  far  as  it  is  possible  for  a  statesman  to  be  so.  But 
his  love  of  his  country  did  not  consist  in  his  hatred  of  the  rest  of 
mankind.  I  shall  conclude  this  account  by  repeating  what  Burke 
said  of  him  at  a  time  when  his  testimony  was  of  the  most  value. 
"To  his  great  and  masterly  understanding  he  joined  the  utmost 
possible  degree  of  moderation :  he  was  of  the  most  artless,  candid, 
open,  and  benevolent  disposition ;  disinterested  in  the  extreme ;  of 
a  temper  mild  and  placable,  even  to  a  fault ;  and  without  one  drop 
of  gall  in  his  constitution." 


27 


TUCKER'S  "LIGHT  OF  NATURE  PURSUED." 

[An  abridgement  of  The  Light  of  Nature  Pursued,  by  Abraham  Tucker, 
Esq.,  originally  published  in  seven  volumes,  under  the  name  of  Edward 
Search,  Esq.,  1807.] 

...  A  GOOD  abridgement  ought  to  contain  just  as  much  as  we 
should  wish  to  recollect  of  a  book ;  it  should  give  back  (only  in  a 
more  perfect  manner)  to  a  reader  well  acquainted  with  the  original, 
"the  image  of  his  mind,"  so  that  he  would  miss  no  favourite 
passage,  none  of  the  prominent  parts,  or  distinguishing  features  of 
the  work.  ...  As  to  the  pains  and  labour  it  has  cost  me,  or 
the  time  I  have  devoted  to  it,  I  shall  say  nothing.  However,  if 
any  one  should  be  scrupulous  on  that  head,  I  might  answer,  as  Sir 
Joshua  Reynolds  is  said  to  have  done  to  some  person  who  cavilled 
at  the  price  of  a  picture,  and  desired  to  know  how  long  he  had 
been  doing  it,  "  All  my  life." 

Of  the  work  itself,  I  can  speak  with  more  confidence.  I  do  not 
know  of  any  work  in  the  shape  of  a  philosophical  treatise  that  con- 
tains so  much  good  sense  so  agreeably  expressed.  The  character  of 
the  work  is,  in  this  respect,  altogether  singular.  Amidst  all  the 
abstruseness  of  the  most  subtle  disquisitions,  it  is  as  familiar  as 
Montaigne,  and  as  wild  and  entertaining  as  John  Buncle.  To  the 
ingenuity  and  closeness  of  the  metaphysician,  he  unites  the  practical 
knowledge  of  the  man  of  the  world,  and  the  utmost  sprightliness, 
and  even  levity  of  imagination.  He  is  the  only  philosopher  who 
appears  to  have  had  his  senses  always  about  him,  or  to  have 
possessed  the  enviable  faculty  of  attending  at  the  same  time  to 
what  was  passing  in  his  own  mind,  and  what  was  going  on  with- 
out him.  He  applied  everything  to  the  purposes  of  philosophy ;  he 
could  not  see  anything,  the  most  familiar  objects  or  the  commonest 
events,  without  connecting  them  with  the  illustration  of  some  diffi- 
cult problem.  The  tricks  of  a  young  kitten,  or  a  little  child  at  play, 
were  sure  to  suggest  to  him  some  useful  observation,  or  nice  dis- 
tinction. To  this  habit  he  was,  no  doubt,  indebted  for  what  Paley 


28          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

justly  calls  "his  unrivalled  power  of  illustration."  To  be  convinced 
that  he  possessed  this  power  in  the  highest  degree,  it  is  only  necessary 
to  look  into  almost  any  page  of  his  writings.  .  .  . 

The  great  merit  of  our  author's  writings  is  undoubtedly  that 
sound,  practical,  comprehensive  good  sense,  which  is  to  be  found  in 
every  part  of  them.  What  is,  I  believe,  the  truest  test  of  fine  sense, 
is  that  affecting  simplicity  in  his  observations,  which  proceeds  from 
their  extreme  truth  and  liveliness.  Whatever  recalls  strongly  to 
our  remembrance  the  common  feelings  of  human  nature,  and  marks 
distinctly  the  changes  that  take  place  in  the  human  breast,  must 
always  be  accompanied  with  some  sense  of  emotion;  for  our  own 
nature  can  never  be  indifferent  to  us.  .  .  . 

Had  our  author  been  a  vain  man,  his  situation  would  not  have 
been  an  enviable  one.  Even  the  sternest  stoic  of  us  all  wishes  at 
least  for  some  person  to  enter  into  his  views  and  feelings,  and  con- 
firm him  in  the  opinion  he  entertains  of  himself.  But  he  does  not 
seem  to  have  had  his  spirits  once  cheered  by  the  animating  cordial 
of  friendly  sympathy.  Discouraged  by  his  friends,  neglected  by  the 
public,  and  ridiculed  by  the  reviewers,  he  still  drew  sufficient  encour- 
agement from  the  testimony  of  his  own  mind,  and  the  inward  con- 
sciousness of  truth.  He  still  pursued  his  inquiries  with  the  same 
calmness  and  industry,  and  entered  into  the  little  round  of  his 
amusements  with  the  same  cheerfulness  as  ever.  He  rested  satisfied 
with  the  enjoyment  of  himself,  and  of  his  own  faculties ;  and  was 
not  disgusted  with  his  simple  employments,  because  they  made  no 
noise  in  the  world.  He  did  not  seek  for  truth  as  the  echo  of  loud 
folly;  and  he  did  not  desist  from  the  exercise  of  his  own  reason, 
because  he  could  make  no  impression  on  ignorance  and  vulgarity. 
He  could  contemplate  the  truth  by  its  own  clear  light,  without  the 
aid  of  the  false  lustre  and  glittering  appearance  which  it  assumes  in 
the  admiring  eyes  of  the  beholders.  He  sought  for  his  reward,  where 
only  the  philosopher  will  find  it,  in  the  secret  approbation  of  his 
own  heart,  and  the  clear  convictions  of  an  enlightened  understand- 
ing. The  man  of  deep  reflection  is  not  likely  to  gain  much  popular 
applause ;  and  he  does  not  stand  in  need  of  it.  He  has  learned  to 
live  upon  his  own  stock,  and  can  build  his  self-esteem  on  a  better 
foundation  than  that  of  vanity.  I  cannot  help  mentioning,  that 
though  Mr.  Tucker  was  blind  when  he  wrote  the  last  volumes  of  his 
work,  which  he  did  with  a  machine  contrived  by  himself,  he  has  not 
said  a  word  of  this  circumstance :  this  would  be  with  me  a  sufficient 
trait  of  his  character. 


[The  Bound  Table  ;  a  Collection  of  Essays  on  Literature,  Men  and  Manners, 
2  vols.,  1817.  The  chief  portion  of  these  Essays  originally  appeared  in  the 
Examiner,  in  1815-1817.  Twelve  of  the  fifty-two  were  by  Leigh  Hunt.  Three 
editions  have  been  published.] 

THE  LOVE  OF  LIFE. 

IT  is  our  intention,  in  the  course  of  these  papers,  occasionally  to 
expose  certain  vulgar  errors,  which  have  crept  into  our.  reasonings 
011  men  and  manners.  Perhaps  one  of  the  most  interesting  of  these 
is  that  which  relates  to  the  source  of  our  general  attachment  to  life. 
We  are  not  going  to  enter  into  the  question,  whether  life  is,  on  the 
whole,  to  be  regarded  as  a  blessing,  though  we  are  by  no  means  in- 
clined to  adopt  the  opinion  of  that  sage  who  thought  "  that  the 
best  thing  that  could  have  happened  to  a  man  was  never  to  have 
been  born,  and  the  next  best  to  have  died  the  moment  after  he 
came  into  existence."  The  common  argument,  however,  which  is 
made  use  of  to  prove  the  value  of  life,  from  the  strong  desire  which 
almost  every  one  feels  for  its  continuance,  appears  to  be  altogether 
inconclusive.  The  wise  and  the  foolish,  the  weak  and  the  strong, 
the  lame  and  the  blind,  the  prisoner  and  the  free,  the  prosperous 
and  the  wretched,  the  beggar  and  the  king,  the  rich  and  the  poor, 
the  young  and  the  old,  from  the  little  child  who  tries  to  leap  over 
his  own  shadow  to  the  old  man  who  stumbles  blindfold  on  his  grave 
— all  feel  this  desire  in  common.  Our  notions  with  respect  to  the 
importance  of  life,  and  our  attachment  to  it,  depend  on  a  principle 
which  has  very  little  to  do  with  its  happiness  or  its  misery. 

The  love  of  life  is,  in  general,  the  effect,  not  of  our  enjoyments, 
but  of  our  passions.  We  are  not  attached  to  it  so  much  for  its  own 
sake,  or  as  it  is  connected  with  happiness,  as  because  it  is  neces- 
sary to  action.  Without  life  there  can  be  no  action — no  objects  of 
pursuit — no  restless  desires — no  tormenting  passions.  Hence  it  is 
that  we  fondly  cling  to  it — that  we  dread  its  termination  as  the 
close,  not  of  enjoyment,  but  of  hope.  The  proof  that  our  attach- 
ment to  life  is  not  absolutely  owing  to  the  immediate  satisfaction 
we  find  in  it  is,  that  those  peraons  are  commonly  found  most  loth 
to  part  with  it  who  have  the  least  enjoyment  of  it.  and  who  have 


30          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

the  greatest  difficulties  to  struggle  with,  as  losing  gamesters  are 
the  most  desperate.  And  further,  there  are  not  many  persons 
who,  with  all  their  pretended  love  of  life,  would  not,  if  it  had  been 
in  their  power,  have  melted  down  the  longest  life  to  a  few  hours. 
"The  schoolboy,"  says  Addison,  "counts  the  time  till  the  return 
of  the  holidays ;  the  minor  longs  to  be  of  age ;  the  lover  is  im- 
patient till  he  is  married."  "  Hope  and  fantastic  expectations 
spend  much  of  our  lives ;  and  while  with  passion  we  look  for  a 
coronation,  or  the  death  of  an  enemy,  or  a  day  of  joy,  passing  from 
fancy  to  possession  without  any  intermediate  notices,  we  throw 
away  a  precious  year." — (Jeremy  Taylor.)  We  would  willingly, 
and  without  remorse,  sacrifice  not  only  the  present  moment,  but 
all  the  interval  (no  matter  how  long)  that  separates  us  from  any 
favourite  object.  We  chiefly  look  upon  life,  then,  as  the  means  to 
an  end.  Its  common  enjoyments  and  its  daily  evils  are  alike  dis- 
regarded for  any  idle  purpose  we  have  in  view.  It  should  seem  as 
if  there  were  a  few  green  sunny  spots  in  the  desert  of  life,  to  which 
we  are  always  hastening  forward;  we  eye  them  wistfully  in  the 
distance,  and  care  not  what  perils  or  suffering  we  endure,  so  that 
we  arrive  at  them  at  last.  However  weary  we  may  be  of  the  same 
stale  round — however  sick  of  the  past — however  hopeless  of  the 
future — the  mind  still  revolts  at  the  thought  of  death,  because  the 
fancied  possibility  of  good,  which  always  remains  with  life,  gathers 
strength  as  it  is  about  to  be  torn  from  us  for  ever,  and  the  dullest 
scene  looks  bright  compared  with  the  darkness  of  the  grave.  Our 
reluctance  to  part  with  existence  evidently  does  not  depend  on  the 
calm  and  even  current  of  our  lives,  but  on  the  force  and  impulse  of 
the  passions.  Hence  that  indifference  to  death  which  has  been  some- 
times remarked  in  people  who  lead  a  solitary  and  peaceful  life  in 
remote  and  barren  districts.  The  pulse  of  life  in  them  does  not 
beat  strong  enough  to  occasion  any  violent  revulsion  of  the  frame 
when  it  ceases.  He  who  treads  the  green  mountain  turf,  or  he  who 
sleeps  beneath  it,  enjoys  an  almost  equal  quiet.  The  death  of  those 
persons  has  always  been  accounted  happy  who  had  attained  their 
utmost  wishes,  who  had  nothing  left  to  regret  or  desire.  Our  re- 
pugnance to  death  increases  in  proportion  to  our  consciousness  of 
having  lived  in  vain — to  the  violence  of  our  efforts,  and  the  keen- 
ness of  our  disappointments — and  to  our  earnest  desire  to  find  in 
the  future,  if  possible,  a  rich  amends  for  the  past.  We  may  be 
said  to  nurse  our  existence  with  the  greatest  tenderness,  according 
to  the  pain  it  has  cost  us ;  and  feel  at  every  step  of  our  varying 
progress  the  truth  of  that  line  of  the  poet — 

"  An  ounce  of  sweet  is  worth  a  pound  of  sour." 


THE  LOVE  OF  LIFE.  31 

The  love  of  life  is  in  fact  the  sum  of  all  our  passions  and  of  all 
our  enjoyments ;  but  these  are  by  no  means  the  same  tiling,  for 
the  vehemence  of  our  passion  is  irritated  not  less  by  disappointment 
than  by  the  prospect  of  success.  Nothing  seems  to  be  a  match 
for  this  general  tenaciousness  of  existence,  but  such  an  extremity 
either  of  bodily  or  mental  suffering  as  destroys  at  once  the  power 
both  of  habit  and  imagination.  In  short,  the  question  whether 
life  is  accompanied  with  a  greater  quantity  of  pleasure  or  pain, 
may  be  fairly  set  aside  as  frivolous,  and  of  no  practical  utility ;  for 
our  attachment  to  life  depends  on  our  interest  in  it,  and  it  cannot 
be  denied  that  we  have  more  interest  in  this  moving  busy  scene, 
agitated  with  a  thousand  hopes  and  fears,  and  checkered  with  every 
diversity  of  joy  and  sorrow,  than  in  a  dreary  blank.  To  be  some- 
thing is  better  than  to  be  nothing,  because  we  can  feel  no  interest 
in  nothing.  Passion,  imagination,  self-will,  the  sense  of  power,  the 
very  consciousness  of  our  existence,  bind  us  to  life,  and  hold  us  fast 
in  its  chains,  as  by  a  magic  spell,  in  spite  of  every  other  considera- 
tion. Nothing  can  be  more  philosophical  than  the  reasoning  which 
Milton  puts  into  the  mouth  of  the  fallen  angel — 

"  And  that  must  end  us,  that  must  be  our  cure — 
To  be  no  more.     Sad  cure  !     For  who  would  lose, 
Though  full  of  pain,  this  intellectual  being, 
Those  thoughts  that  wander  through  eternity, 
To  perish  rather,  swallow'd  up  and  lost 
In  the  wide  womb  of  uncreated  night, 
Devoid  of  sense  and  motion  ? " 

Nearly  the  same  account  may.  be  given  in  answer  to  the  question 
which  has  been  asked,  Why  so  few  tyrants  kill  themselves  ?  In  the 
first  place,  they  are  never  satisfied  with  the  mischief  they  have  done, 
and  cannot  quit  their  hold  of  power  after  all  sense  of  pleasure  is 
fled.  Besides,  they  absurdly  argue  from  the  means  of  happiness 
placed  within  their  reach  to  the  end  itself ;  and,  dazzled  by  the 
pomp  and  pageantry  of  a  throne,  cannot  relinquish  the  persuasion 
that  they  ought  to  be  happier  than  other  men.  The  prejudice  of 
opinion,  which  attaches  us  to  life,  is  in  them  stronger  than  in  others, 
and  incorrigible  to  experience.  The  great  are  life's  fools — dupes  of 
the  splendid  shadows  that  surround  them,  and  wedded  to  the  very 
mockeries  of  opinion. 

Whatever  is  our  situation  or  pursuit  in  life,  the  result  will  be  much 
the  same.  The  strength  of  the  passion  seldom  corresponds  to  the 
pleasure  we  find  in  its  indulgence.  The  miser  "  robs  himself  to  in- 
crease his  store;  the  ambitious  man  toils  up  a  slippery  precipice  only 


32          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

to  be  tumbled  headlong  from  its  height ;  the  lover  is  infatuated 
with  the  charms  of  his  mistress,  exactly  in  proportion  to  the  mor- 
tifications he  has  received  from  her.  Even  those  who  succeed  in 
nothing — who,  as  it  has  been  emphatically  expressed, 

"  Are  made  desperate  by  too  quick  a  sense 
Of  constant  infelicity  ;  cut  off 
From  peace  like  exiles,  on  some  barren  rock, 
Their  life's  sad  prison,  with  no  more  of  ease 
Than  sentinels  between  two  armies  set " — 

are  yet  as  unwilling  as  others  to  give  over  the  unprofitable  strife : 
their  harassed  feverish  existence  refuses  rest,  and  frets  the  languor 
of  exhausted  hope  into  the  torture  of  unavailing  regret.  The  exile, 
who  has  been  unexpectedly  restored  to  his  country  and  to  liberty, 
often  finds  his  courage  fail  with  the  accomplishment  of  all  his 
wishes,  and  the  struggle  of  life  and  hope  ceases  at  the  same 
instant. 

We  once  more  repeat,  that  we  do  not,  in  the  foregoing  remarks, 
mean  to  enter  into  a  comparative  estimate  of  the  value  of  human 
life,  but  merely  to  show  that  the  strength  of  our  attachment  to  it  is 
a  very  fallacious  test  of  its  happiness. 


LOVE  OF  THE  COUNTRY. 

[This  letter  is  incorporated  in  the  critical  remarks  on  Thomson  and  Cowper 
in  Lectures  on  the  English  Poets,  1818.] 

TO   THE   EDITOR  OP   "THE   HOUND  TABLE." 

SIR, — I  do  not  know  that  any  one  has  ever  explained  satisfactorily 
the  true  source  of  our  attachment  to  natural  objects,  or  of  that 
soothing  emotion  which  the  sight  of  the  country  hardly  ever  fails  to 
infuse  into  the  mind.  Some  persons  have  ascribed  this  feeling  to 
the  natural  beauty  of  the  objects  themselves ;  others  to  the  freedom 
from  care,  the  silence  and  tranquillity,  which  scenes  of  retirement 
afford  ;  others  to  the  healthy  and  innocent  employments  of  a  country 
life ;  others  to  the  simplicity  of  country  manners,  and  others  to  dif- 
ferent causes ;  but  none  to  the  right  one.  All  these  causes  may,  I 
believe,  have  a  share  in  producing  this  feeling ;  but  there  is  another 
more  general  principle,  which  has  been  left  untouched,  and  which  I 


LOVE  OF  THE  COUNTRY.  33 

shall  here  explain,  endeavouring  to  be  as  little  sentimental  as  the 
subject  will  admit. 

Rousseau,  in  his  "  Confessions  " — the  most  valuable  of  all  his  works 
— relates  that,  when  he  took  possession  of  his  room  at  Annecy,  at 
the  house  of  his  beloved  mistress  and  friend,  he  found  that  he  could 
see  "  a  little  spot  of  green  "  from  his  window,  which  endeared  his 
situation  the  more  to  him,  because,  he  says,  it  was  the  first  time  he 
had  had  this  object  constantly  before  him  since  he  left  Boissy,  the 
place  where  he  was  at  school  when  a  child.  Some  such  feeling  as 
that  here  described  will  be  found  lurking  at  the  bottom  of  all  our 
attachments  of  this  sort.  Were  it  not  for  the  recollections  habitually 
associated  with  them,  natural  objects  could  not  interest  the  mind  in 
the  manner  they  do.  No  doubt  the  sky  is  beautiful ;  the  clouds  sail 
majestically  along  its  bosom;  the  sun  is  cheering;  there  is  some- 
thing exquisitely  graceful  in  the  manner  in  which  a  plant  or  tree 
puts  forth  its  branches ;  the  motion  with  which  they  bend  and 
tremble  in  the  evening  breeze  is  soft  and  lovely ;  there  is  music  in 
the  babbling  of  a  brook ;  the  view  from  the  top  of  a  mountain  is  full 
of  grandeur ;  nor  can  we  behold  the  ocean  with  indifference.  Or,  as 
the  minstrel  sweetly  sings — 

"  Oh,  how  can'st  thou  renounce  the  boundless  store 
Of  charms  which  Nature  to  her  vot'ry  yields  ? 
The  warbling  woodland,  the  resounding  shore, 
The  pomp  of  groves,  and  garniture  of  fields  ; 
All  that  the  genial  ray  of  morning  gilds, 
And  all  that  echoes  to  the  song  of  even  ;     • 
All  that  the  mountain's  sheltering  bosom  shields, 
And  all  the  dread  magnificence  of  heaven — 
Oh,  how  can'st  thou  renounce,  and  hope  to  be  forgiven  I" 

It  is  not,  however,  the  beautiful  and  magnificent  alone  that  we 
admire  in  Nature;  the  most  insignificant  and  the  rudest  objects 
are  often  found  connected  with  the  strongest  emotions ;  we  become 
attached  to  the  most  common  and  familiar  images,  as  to  the  face  of 
a  friend  whom  we  have  long  known,  and  from  whom  we  have  received 
many  benefits.  It  is  because  natural  objects  have  been  associated 
with  the  sports  of  our  childhood,  with  air  and  exercise,  with  our  feel- 
ings in  solitude,  when  the  mind  takes  the  strongest  hold  of  things, 
and  clings  with  the  fondest  interest  to  whatever  strikes  its  atten- 
tion ;  with  change  of  place,  the  pursuit  of  new  scenes,  and  thoughts 
of  distant  friends  :  it  is  because  they  have  surrounded  us  in  almost 
all  situations,  in  joy  and  in  sorrow,  in  pleasure  and  in  pain — because 
they  have  been  one  chief  source  and  nourishment  of  our  feelings,  and 
a  part  of  our  being,  that  we  love  them  as  we  do  ourselves. 


34          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

There  is,  generally  speaking,  the  same  foundation  for  our  love  of 
Nature  as  for  all  our  habitual  attachments,  namely,  association  of 
ideas.  But  this  is  not  all.  That  which  distinguishes  this  attach- 
ment from  others  is  the  transferable  nature  of  our  feelings  with 
respect  to  physical  objects,  the  associations  connected  with  any  one 
object  extending  to  the  whole  class.  My  having  been  attached  to 
any  particular  person  does  not  make  me  feel  the  same  attachment 
to  the  next  person  I  may  chance  to  meet ;  but  if  I  have  once 
associated  strong  feelings  of  delight  with  the  objects  of  natural 
scenery,  the  tie  becomes  indissoluble,  and  I  shall  ever  after  feel  the 
same  attachment  to  other  objects  of  the  same  sort.  I  remember, 
when  I  was  abroad,  the  trees  and  grass  and  wet  leaves  rustling  in 
the  walks  of  the  Tuileries  seemed  to  be  as  much  English,  to  be  as 
much  the  same  trees  and  grass  that  I  had  always  been  used  to,  as 
the  sun  shining  over  my  head  was  the  same  sun  which  I  saw  in 
England ;  the  faces  only  were  foreign  to  me.  Whence  comes  this 
difference  ?  It  arises  from  our  always  imperceptibly  connecting  the 
idea  of  the  individual  with  man,  and  only  the  idea  of  the  class  with 
natural  objects.  In  the  one  case,  the  external  appearance  or  physical 
structure  is  the  least  thing  to  be  attended  to ;  in  the  other,  it  is 
everything.  The  springs  that  move  the  human  form,  and  make  it 
friendly  or  adverse  to  me,  lie  hid  within  it.  There  is  an  infinity  of 
motives,  passions,  and  ideas  contained  in  that  narrow  compass,  of 
which  I  know  nothing,  and  in  which  I  have  no  share.  Each  indi- 
vidual is  a  world  to  himself,  governed  by  a  thousand  contradictory 
and  wayward  impulses.  I  can,  therefore,  make  no  inference  from 
one  individual  to  another;  nor  can  my  habitual  sentiments,  with 
respect  to  any  individual,  extend  beyond  himself  to  others.  But  it 
is  otherwise  with  respect  to  Nature.  There  is  neither  hypocrisy, 
caprice,  nor  mental  reservation  in  her  favours.  Our  intercourse  with 
her  is  not  liable  to  accident  or  change,  interruption  or  disappoint- 
ment. She  smiles  on  us  still  the  same.  Thus,  to  give  an  obvious 
instance,  if  I  have  once  enjoyed  the  cool  shade  of  a  tree,  and  been 
lulled  into  a  deep  repose  by  the  sound  of  a  brook  running  at  its  feet, 
I  am  sure  that  wherever  I  can  find  a  tree  and  a  brook  I  can  enjoy 
the  pleasure  again.  Hence,  when  I  imagine  these  objects,  I  can 
easily  form  a  mystic  personification  of  the  friendly  power  that  in- 
habits them,  dryad  or  nai'ad,  offering  its  cool  fountain  or  its  tempting 
shade.  Hence  the  origin  of  the  Grecian  mythology.  All  objects  of 
the  same  kind  being  the  same,  not  only  in  their  appearance  but  in 
their  practical  uses,  we  habitually  confound  them  together  under  the 
same  general  idea ;  and  whatever  fondness  we  may  have  conceived 
for  one  is  immediately  placed  to  the  common  account.  The  most 


LOVE  OF  THE  COUNTRY.  35 

opposite  kinds  and  remote  trains  of  feeling  gradually  go  to  enrich 
the  same  sentiment ;  and  in  our  love  of  Nature  there  is  all  the  force 
of  individual  attachment  combined  with  the  most  airy  abstraction. 
It  is  this  circumstance  which  gives  that  refinement,  expansion,  and 
wild  interest  to  feelings  of  this  sort,  when  strongly  excited,  which 
every  one  must  have  experienced  who  is  a  true  lover  of  Nature.  The 
sight  of  the  setting  sun  does  not  affect  me  so  much  from  the  beauty 
of  the  object  itself,  from  the  glory  kindled  through  the  glowing  skies, 
the  rich  broken  columns  of  light,  or  the  dying  streaks  of  day,  as  that 
it  indistinctly  recalls  to  me  numberless  thoughts  and  feelings  with 
which,  through  many  a  year  and  season,  I  have  watched  his  bright 
descent  in  the  warm  summer  evenings,  or  beheld  him  struggling  to 
cast  a  "  farewell  sweet "  through  the  thick  clouds  of  winter.  I  love 
to  see  the  trees  first  covered  with  leaves  hi  the  spring,  the  primroses 
peeping  out  from  some  sheltered  bank,  and  the  innocent  lambs 
running  races  on  the  soft  green  turf ;  because  at  that  birth-time  of 
Nature  I  have  always  felt  sweet  hopes  and  happy  wishes — which  have 
not  been  fulfilled !  The  dry  reeds  rustling  on  the  side  of  a  stream — 
the  woods  swept  by  the  loud  blast — the  dark  massy  foliage  of  autumn 
— the  grey  trunks  and  naked  branches  of  the  trees  in  winter — the 
sequestered  copse  and  wide-extended  heath — the  warm  sunny  showers 
and  December  snows — have  all  charms  for  me ;  there  is  no  object, 
however  trifling  or  rude,  that  has  not,  in  some  mood  or  other,  found 
the  way  to  my  heart ;  and  I  might  say,  in  the  words  of  the  poet : 

"  To  me  the  meanest  flower  that  blows  can  give 
Thoughts  that  do  often  lie  too  deep  for  tears." 

Thus  Nature  is  a  kind  of  universal  home,  and  every  object  it  pre- 
sents to  us  an  old  acquaintance  with  unaltered  looks : 

"Nature  did  ne'er  betray 


The  heart  that  lov'd  her,  but  through  all  the  years 
Of  this  our  life,  it  is  her  privilege 
To  lead  from  joy  to  joy." 

For  there  is  that  consent  and  mutual  harmony  among  all  her  works 
— one  undivided  spirit  pervading  them  throughout — that,  if  we 
have  once  knit  ourselves  in  hearty  fellowship  to  any  of  them,  they 
will  never  afterwards  appear  as  strangers  to  us,  but,  whichever  way 
we  turn,  we  shall  find  a  secret  power  to  have  gone  out  before  us, 
moulding  them  into  such  shapes  as  fancy  loves,  informing  them 
with  life  and  sympathy,  bidding  them  put  on  their  festive  looks 
and  gayest  attire  at  our  approach,  and  to  pour  all  their  sweets 
and  choicest  treasures  at  our  feet.  For  him,  then,  who  has  well 


36          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

acquainted  himself  with  Nature's  works,  she  wears  always  one  face, 
and  speaks  the  same  well-known  language,  striking  on  the  heart, 
amidst  unquiet  thoughts  and  the  tumult  of  the  world,  like  the 
music  of  one's  native  tongue  heard  in  some  far-off  country. 

We  do  not  connect  the  same  feelings  with  the  works  of  Art  as 
with  those  of  Nature,  because  we  refer  them  to  man,  and  associate 
with  them  the  separate  interests  and  passions  which  we  know  be- 
long to  those  who  are  the  authors  or  possessors  of  them.  Never- 
theless, there  are  some  such  objects,  as  a  cottage  or  a  village  church, 
which  excite  in  us  the  same  sensations  as  the  sight  of  Nature,  and 
which  are,  indeed,  almost  always  included  in  descriptions  of  natural 
scenery. 

"  Or  from  the  mountain's  sides 
View  wilds  and  swelling  floods, 
And  hamlets  brown,  and  dim-discover'd  spires, 
And  hear  their  simple  bell." 

Which  is  in  part,  no  doubt,  because  they  are  surrounded  with 
natural  objects,  and,  in  a  populous  country,  inseparable  from  them ; 
and  also  because  the  human  interest  they  excite  relates  to  manners 
and  feelings  which  are  simple,  common,  such  as  all  can  enter  into, 
and  which,  therefore,  always  produce  a  pleasing  effect  upon  the 
mind. 


THE  TENDENCY  OF  SECTS. 

THERE  is  a  natural  tendency  in  sects  to  narrow  the  mind. 

The  extreme  stress  laid  upon  differences  of  minor  importance,  to 
the  neglect  of  more  general  truths  and  broader  views  of  things, 
gives  an  inverted  bias  to  the  understanding ;  and  this  bias  is  con- 
tinually increased  by  the  eagerness  of  controversy,  and  captious 
hostility  to  the  prevailing  system.  A  party-feeling  of  this  kind 
once  formed  will  insensibly  communicate  itself  to  other  topics ;  and 
will  be  too  apt  to  lead  its  votaries  to  a  contempt  for  the  opinions  of 
others,  a  jealousy  of  every  difference  of  sentiment,  and  a  disposition 
to  arrogate  all  sound  principle  as  well  as  understanding  to  them- 
selves and  those  who  think  with  them.  We  can  readily  conceive 
how  such  persons,  from  fixing  too  high  a  value  on  the  practical 
pledge  which  they  have  given  of  the  independence  and  sincerity  of 
their  opinions,  come  at  last  to  entertain  a  suspicion  of  every  one 
else  as  acting  under  the  shackles  of  prejudice  or  the  mask  of  hypo- 
crisy. All  those  who  have  not  given  in  their  unqualified  protests 


THE  TENDENCY  OF  SECTS.  37 

against  received  doctrines  and  established  authority,  are  supposed 
to  labour  under  an  acknowledged  incapacity  to  form  a  rational  de- 
termination on  any  subject  -whatever.  Any  argument,  not  having 
the  presumption  of  singularity  in  its  favour,  is  immediately  set 
aside  as  nugatory.  There  is,  however,  no  prejudice  so  strong  as 
that  which  arises  from  a  fancied  exemption  from  all  prejudice.  For 
this  last  implies  not  only  the  practical  conviction  that  it  is  right, 
but  the  theoretical  assumption  that  it  cannot  be  wrong.  From 
considering  all  objections  as  in  this  manner  "null  and  void,"  the 
mind  becomes  so  thoroughly  satisfied  with  its  own  conclusions  as  to 
render  any  further  examination  of  them  superfluous,  and  confounds 
its  exclusive  pretensions  to  reason  with  the  absolute  possession  of 
it.  Those  who,  from  their  professing  to  submit  everything  to  the 
test  of  reason,  have  acquired  the  name  of  Rational  Dissenters,  have 
their  weak  sides  as  well  as  other  people ;  nor  do  we  know  of  any 
class  of  disputants  more  disposed  to  take  their  opinions  for  granted 
than  those  who  call  themselves  Freethinkers.  A  long  habit  of  ob- 
jecting to  everything  establishes  a  monopoly  in  the  right  of  contra- 
diction— a  prescriptive  title  to  the  privilege  of  starting  doubts  and 
difficulties  in  the  common  belief,  without  being  liable  to  have  our 
own  called  in  question.  There  cannot  be  a  more  infallible  way  to 
prove  that  we  must  be  in  the  right,  than  by  maintaining  roundly 
that  every  one  else  is  in  the  wrong.  Not  only  the  opposition 
of  sects  to  one  another,  but  their  unanimity  among  themselves, 
strengthens  their  confidence  in  their  peculiar  notions.  They  feel 
themselves  invulnerable  behind  the  double  fence  of  sympathy  with 
themselves  and  antipathy  to  the  rest  of  the  world.  Backed  by  the 
zealous  support  of  their  followers,  they  become  equally  intolerant 
with  respect  to  the  opinions  of  others  and  tenacious  of  their  own. 
They  fortify  themselves  within  the  narrow  circle  of  their  new-fangled 
prejudices ;  the  whole  exercise  of  their  right  of  private  judgment 
is  after  a  time  reduced  to  the  repetition  of  a  set  of  watchwords, 
which  have  been  adopted  as  the  shibboleth  of  the  party ;  and  their 
extremest  points  of  faith  pass  as  current  as  the  bead-roll  and  legends 
of  the  Catholics,  or  St.  Athanasius'  Creed  and  the  Thirty-nine  Articles. 
We  certainly  are  not  going  to  recommend  the  establishment  of 
articles  of  faith,  or  implicit  assent  to  them,  as  favourable  to  the  pro- 
gress of  philosophy ;  but  neither  has  the  spirit  of  opposition  to  them 
this  tendency,  as  far  as  relates  to  its  immediate  effects,  however 
useful  it  may  be  in  its  remote  consequences.  The  spirit  of  contro- 
versy substitutes  the  irritation  of  personal  feeling  for  the  independent 
exertion  of  the  understanding ;  and  when  this  irritation  ceases,  the 
mind  flags  for  want  of  a  sufficient  stimulus  to  urge  it  on.  It  dis- 


38          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

charges  all  its  energy  with  its  spleen.  Besides,  this  perpetual  cavil- 
ling with  the  opinions  of  others,  detecting  petty  flaws  in  their  argu- 
ments, calling  them  to  a  literal  account  for  their  absurdities,  and 
squaring  their  doctrines  by  a  pragmatical  standard  of  our  own,  is 
necessarily  adverse  to  any  great  enlargement  of  mind  or  original 
freedom  of  thought.1  The  constant  attention  bestowed  on  a  few 
contested  points,  by  at  once  nattering  our  pride,  our  prejudices,  and 
our  indolence,  supersedes  more  general  inquiries;  and  the  bigoted 
controversialist,  by  dint  of  repeating  a  certain  formula  of  belief,  shall 
not  only  convince  himself  that  all  those  who  differ  from  him  are 
undoubtedly  wrong  on  that  point,  but  that  their  knowledge  on  all 
others  must  be  comparatively  slight  and  superficial.  We  have  known 
some  very  worthy  and  well-informed  Biblical  critics,  who,  by  virtue 
of  having  discovered  that  one  was  not  three,  or  that  the  same  body 
could  not  be  in  two  places  at  once,  would  be  disposed  to  treat  the 
whole  Council  of  Trent,  with  Father  Paul  at  their  head,  with  very 
little  deference,  and  to  consider  Leo  X.,  with  all  his  court,  as  no 
better  than  drivellers.  Such  persons  will  hint  to  you,  as  an  addi- 
tional proof  of  his  genius,,  that  Milton  was  a  Nonconformist,  and 
will  excuse  the  faults  of  "  Paradise  Lost,"  as  Dr.  Johnson  magnified 
them,  because  the  author  was  a  Republican.  By  the  all-sufficiency 
of  their  merits  in  believing  certain  truths  which  have  been  "  hid  from 
ages,"  they  are  elevated,  in  their  own  imagination,  to  a  higher  sphere 
of  intellect,  and  are  released  from  the  necessity  of  pursuing  the  more 
ordinary  tracks  of  inquiry.  Their  faculties  are  imprisoned  in  a  few 
favourite  dogmas,  and  they  cannot  break  through  the  trammels  of  a 
sect.  Hence  we  may  remark  a  hardness  and  setness  in  the  ideas  of 
those  who  have  been  brought  up  in  this  way,  an  aversion  to  those 
finer  and  more  delicate  operations  of  the  intellect,  of  taste,  and 
genius,  which  require  greater  flexibility  and  variety  of  thought,  and 
do  not  afford  the  same  opportunity  for  dogmatical  assertion  and 
controversial  cabal.  The  distaste  of  the  Puritans,  Quakers,  &c.,  to 
pictures,  music,  poetry,  and  the  fine  arts  in  general,  may  be  traced 
to  this  source  as  much  as  to  their  affected  disdain  of  them,  as  not 
sufficiently  spiritual  and  remote  from  the  gross  impurity  of  sense. 

1  The  Dissenters  in  this  country  (if  we  except  the  founders  of  sects,  who 
fall  under  a  class  by  themselves)  have  produced  only  two  remarkable  men, 
Priestley  and  Jonathan  Edwards.  The  work  of  the  letter  on  the  Will  is 
written  with  as  much  power  of  logic,  and  more  in  the  true  spirit  of  philosophy, 
than  any  other  metaphysical  work  in  the  language.  His  object  throughout 
is  not  to  perplex  the  question,  but  to  satisfy  his  own  mind  and  the  reader's. 
In  general,  the  principle  of  Dissent  arises  more  from  want  of  sympathy  and 
imagination,  than  from  strength  of  reason.  The  spirit  of  contradiction  is  not 
the  spirit  of  philosophy. 


THE  TENDENCY  OF  SECTS.  39 

We  learn  from  the  interest  we  take  in  things,  and  according  to 
the  number  of  things  in  which  we  take  an  interest.  Our  ignorance 
of  the  real  value  of  different  objects  and  pursuits  will  in  general 
keep  pace  with  our  contempt  for  them.  To  set  out  with  denying 
common  sense  to  every  one  else  is  not  the  way  to  be  wise  our- 
selves; nor  shall  we  be  likely  to  learn  much  if  we  suppose  that 
no  one  can  teach  us  anything  worth  knowing.  Again,  a  contempt 
for  the  habits  and  manners  of  the  world  is  as  prejudicial  as  a  con- 
tempt for  its  opinions.  A  puritanical  abhorrence  of  everything 
that  does  not  fall  in  with  our  immediate  prejudices  and  customs 
must  effectually  cut  us  off,  not  only  from  a  knowledge  of  the  world 
and  of  human  nature,  but  of  good  and  evil,  of  vice  and  virtue — at 
least,  if  we  can  credit  the  assertion  of  Plato  (which,  to  some  degree, 
we  do),  that  the  knowledge  of  everything  implies  the  knowledge  of 
its  opposite.  "  There  is  some  soul  of  goodness  in  things  evil."  A 
most  respectable  sect  among  ourselves  (we  mean  the  Quakers)  have 
carried  this  system  of  negative  qualities  nearly  to  perfection.  They 
labour  diligently,  and  with  great  success,  to  exclude  all  ideas  from 
their  minds  which  they  might  have  in  common  with  others.  On  the 
principle  that  "evil  communications  corrupt  good  manners,"  they 
retain  a  virgin  purity  of  understanding  and  laudable  ignorance  of 
all  liberal  arts  and  sciences ;  they  take  every  precaution,  and  keep  up 
a  perpetual  quarantine  against  the  infection  of  other  people's  vices — 
or  virtues ;  they  pass  through  the  world  like  figures  cut  out  of  paste- 
board or  wood,  turning  neither  to  the  right  nor  the  left ;  and  their 
minds  are  no  more  affected  by  the  example  of  the  follies,  the  pursuits, 
the  pleasures,  or  the  passions  of  mankind,  than  the  clothes  which  they 
wear.  Their  ideas  want  airing ;  they  are  the  worse  for  not  being  used ; 
for  fear  of  soiling  them  they  keep  them  folded  up  and  laid  by  in  a 
sort  of  mental  clothes-press  through  the  whole  of  their  lives.  They 
take  their  notions  on  trust  from  one  generation  to  another — like  the 
scanty  cut  of  their  coats — and  are  so  wrapped  up  in  these  traditional 
maxims,  and  so  pin  their  faith  on  them,  that  one  of  the  most  in- 
telligent of  this  class  of  people,  not  long  ago,  assured  us  that  "  war 
was  a  thing  that  was  going  quite  out  of  fashion."  This  abstract 
sort  of  existence  may  have  its  advantages,  but  it  takes  away  all  the 
ordinary  sources  of  a  moral  imagination,  as  well  as  strength  of 
intellect.  Interest  is  the  only  link  that  connects  them  with  the 
world.  We  can  understand  the  high  enthusiasm  and  religious 
devotion  of  monks  and  anchorites,  who  gave  up  the  world  and  its 
pleasures  to  dedicate  themselves  to  a  sublime  contemplation  of  a 
future  state ;  but  the  sect  of  the  Quakers,  who  have  transplanted 
the  maxims  of  the  desert  into  manufacturing  towns  and  populous 


40          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC, 

cities — who  have  converted  the  solitary  cells  of  the  religious  orders 
into  counting-houses,  their  beads  into  ledgers,  and  keep  a  regular 
"  debtor  and  creditor  "  account  between  this  world  and  the  next — 
puzzle  us  mightily.  The  Dissenter  is  not  vain,  but  conceited — that 
is,  he  makes  up  by  his  own  good  opinion  for  the  want  of  the  cordial 
admiration  of  others  ;  but  this  often  stands  their  self-love  in  so  good 
stead  that  they  need  not  envy  their  dignified  opponents  who  repose 
on  lawn-sleeves  and  ermine.  The  unmerited  obloquy  and  dislike  to 
which  they  are  exposed  has  made  them  cold  and  reserved  in  their 
intercourse  with  society.  The  same  cause  will  account  for  the 
dryness  and  general  homeliness  of  their  style.  They  labour  under 
a  sense  of  the  want  of  public  sympathy.  They  pursue  truth,  for 
its  own  sake,  into  its  private  recesses  and  obscure  corners.  They 
have  to  dig  their  way  along  a  narrow  underground  passage.  It  is 
not  their  object  to  shine ;  they  have  none  of  the  usual  incentives  of 
vanity — light,  airy,  and  ostentatious.  Archiepiscopal  sees  and  mitres 
do  not  glitter  in  their  distant  horizon.  They  are  not  wafted  on  the 
wings  of  fancy,  fanned  by  the  breath  of  popular  applause.  The 
voice  of  the  world,  the  tide  of  opinion,  is  not  with  them.  They  do 
not,  therefore,  aim  at  4dat — at  outward  pomp  and  show.  They  have 
a  plain  ground  to  work  upon,  and  they  do  not  attempt  to  embellish 
it  with  idle  ornaments.  It  would  be  in  vain  to  strew  the  flowers  of 
poetry  round  the  borders  of  the  Unitarian  controversy. 

There  is  one  quality  common  to  all  sectaries,  and  that  is,  a 
principle  of  strong  fidelity.  They  are  the  safest  partisans  and  the 
steadiest  friends.  Indeed,  they  are  almost  the  only  people  who  have 
any  idea  of  an  abstract  attachment,  either  to  a  cause  or  to  indi- 
viduals, from  a  sense  of  duty,  independently  of  prosperous  or  adverse 
circumstances,  and  in  spite  of  opposition. 


ON  "JOHN  BUNGLE." 

JOHN  BUNCLE  is  the  English  Rabelais.  This  is  an  author  with 
whom,  perhaps,  many  of  our  readers  are  not  acquainted,  and  whom 
we  therefore  wish  to  introduce  to  their  notice.  As  most  of  our 
countrymen  delight  in  English  generals  and  in  English  admirals,  in 
English  courtiers  and  in  English  kings,  so  our  great  delight  is  in 
English  authors. 

The  soul  of  Francis  Rabelais  passed  into  John  Amory,  the  author 
of  "  The  Life  and  Adventures  of  John  Buncle."    Both  were  physicians, 


ON  "JOHN  BUNCLE."  41 

and  enemies  of  too  much  gravity.  Their  great  business  was  to  enjoy 
life.  Rabelais  indulges  his  spirit  of  sensuality  in  wine,  in  dried 
neats-tongues,  in  Bologna  sausages,  in  botargos.  John  Buncle  shows 
the  same  symptoms  of  inordinate  satisfaction  in  tea  and  bread-and- 
butter.  While  Rabelais  roared  with  Friar  John  and  the  monks, 
John  Buncle  gossiped  with,  the  ladies,  and  with  equal  and  uncon- 
trolled gaiety.  These  two  authors  possessed  all  the  insolence  of 
health,  so  that  their  works  give  a  fillip  to  the  constitution ;  but 
they  carried  off  the  exuberance  of  their  natural  spirits  in  different 
ways.  The  title  of  one  of  Rabelais'  chapters  (and  the  contents 
answer  to  the  title)  is,  "  How  they  chirped  over  their  cups."  The 
title  of  a  corresponding  chapter  in  "  John  Buncle  "  would  run  thus : 
"  The  author  is  invited  to  spend  the  evening  with  the  divine  Miss 
Hawkins,  and  goes  accordingly;  with  the  delightful  conversation 
that  ensued."  Natural  philosophers  are  said  to  extract  sunbeams 
from  ice ;  our  author  has  performed  the  same  feat  upon  the  the  cold 
quaint  subtleties  of  theology.  His  constitutional  alacrity  over- 
comes every  obstacle.  He  converts  the  thorns  and  briars  of  contro- 
versial divinity  into  a  bed  of  roses.  He  leads  the  most  refined  and 
virtuous  of  their  sex  through  the  mazes  of  inextricable  problems 
with  the  air  of  a  man  walking  a  minuet  in  a  drawing-room ;  mixes 
up  in  the  most  natural  and  careless  manner  the  academy  of  com- 
pliments with  the  rudiments  of  algebra ;  or  passes  with  rapturous 
indifference  from  the  First  of  St.  John  and  a  disquisition  on  the 
Logos  to  the  no  less  metaphysical  doctrines  of  the  principle  of  self- 
preservation  or  the  continuation  of  the  species.  "  John  Buncle  "  is 
certainly  one  of  the  most  singular  productions  in  the  language,  and 
herein  lies  its  peculiarity.  It  is  a  Unitarian  romance,  and  one  in 
which  the  soul  and  body  are  equally  attended  to.  The  hero  is  a 
great  philosopher,  mathematician,  anatomist,  chemist,  philologist, 
and  divine,  with  a  good  appetite,  the  best  spirits,  and  an  amorous 
constitution,  who  sets  out  on  a  series  of  strange  adventures  to  pro- 
pagate his  philosophy,  his  divinity,  and  his  species,  and  meets  with 
a  constant  succession  of  accomplished  females,  adorned  with  equal 
beauty,  wit,  and  virtue,  who  are  always  ready  to  discuss  all  kinds  of 
theoretical  and  practical  points  with  him.  His  angels — and  all  his 
women  are  angels — have  all  taken  their  degrees  in  more  than  one 
science :  love  is  natural  to  them.  He  is  sure  to  find 

"  A  mistress  and  a  saint  in  every  grove. " 

Pleasure  and  business,  wisdom  and  mirth,  take  their  turns  with  the 
most  agreeable  regularity:  A  jocis  ad  seria,  in  seriis  vicissim  adjocos 


42          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

transire.  After  a  chapter  of  calculations  in  fluxions,  or  on  the 
descent  of  tongues,  the  lady  and  gentleman  fall  from  Platonics  to 
hoydening,  in  a  manner  as  truly  edifying  as  anything  in  the  scenes 
of  Vanbrugh  or  Sir  George  Etherege.  No  writer  ever  understood  so 
well  the  art  of  relief.  The  effect  is  like  travelling  in  Scotland,  and 
coming  all  of  a  sudden  to  a  spot  of  habitable  ground.  His  mode 
of  making  love  is  admirable  He  takes  it  quite  easily,  and  never 
thinks  of  a  refusal.  His  success  gives  him  confidence,  and  his  con- 
fidence gives  him  success.  For  example :  in  the  midst  of  one  of  his 
rambles  in  the  mountains  of  Cumberland  he  unexpectedly  comes  to  an 
elegant  country-seat,  where,  walking  on  the  lawn  with  a  book  in  her 
hand,  he  sees  a  most  enchanting  creature,  the  owner  of  the  mansion. 
Our  hero  is  on  fire,  leaps  the  ha-ha  which  separates  them,  presents 
himself  before  the  lady  with  an  easy  but  respectful  air,  begs  to  know 
the  subject  of  her  meditation  ;  they  enter  into  conversation,  mvitual 
explanations  take  place,  a  declaration  of  love  is  made,  and  the 
wedding-day  is  fixed  for  the  following  Tuesday.  Our  author  now 
leads  a  life  of  perfect  happiness  with  his  beautiful  Miss  Noel,  in  a 
charming  solitude,  for  a  few  weeks,  till,  on  his  return  from  one  of 
his  rambles  in  the  mountains,  he  finds  her  a  corpse.  He  "  sits  with 
his  eyes  shut  for  seven  days"  absorbed  in  silent  grief;  he  then  bids 
adieu  to  melancholy  reflections — not  being  one  of  that  sect  of  philoso- 
phers who  think  that  "  man  was  made  to  mourn  " — takes  horse,  and 
sets  out  for  the  nearest  watering-place.  As  he  alights  at  the  first 
inn  on  the  road,  a  lady  dressed  in  a  rich  green  riding-habit  steps  out 
of  a  coach;  John  Buncle  hands  her  into  the  inn,  they  drink  tea 
together,  they  converse,  they  find  an  exact  harmony  of  sentiment,  a 
declaration  of  love  follows  as  a  matter  of  course,  and  that  day  week 
they  are  married.  Death,  however,  contrives  to  keep  up  the  ball 
for  him  :  he  marries  seven  wives  in  succession,  and  buries  them  all. 
In  short,  John  Buncle's  gravity  sat  upon  him  with  the  happiest 
indifference  possible.  He  danced  the  Hays  with  religion  and  morality 
with  the  ease  of  a  man  of  fashion  and  of  pleasure.  He  was  deter- 
mined to  see  fair-play  between  grace  and  nature — between  his  im- 
mortal and  his  mortal  part ;  and,  in  case  of  any  difficulty,  upon  the 
principle  of  "  first  come  first  served,"  made  sure  of  the  present  hour. 
We  sometimes  suspect  him  of  a  little  hypocrisy,  but  upon  a  closer 
inspection  it  appears  to  be  only  an  affectation  of  hypocrisy.  His 
fine  constitution  comes  to  his  relief,  and  floats  him  over  the  shoals 
and  quicksands  that  lie  in  his  way,  "  most  dolphin-like."  You  see 
him,  from  mere  happiness  of  nature,  chuckling  with  inward  satis- 
faction in  the  midst  of  his  periodical  penances,  his  grave  grimaces, 
his  death's-heads  and  memento  marts  : 


ON  "JOHN  BUNGLE."  43 

"  And  there  the  antic  sits 

Mocking  his  state,  and  grinning  at  his  pomp." 

As  men  make  use  of  olives  to  give  a  relish  to  their  wine,  so  John 
Buncle  made  use  of  philosophy  to  give  a  relish  to  life.  He  stops  in 
a  ball-room  at  Harrogate  to  moralise  on  the  small  number  of  faces 
that  appeared  there  out  of  those  he  remembered  some  years  before ; 
all  were  gone  whom  he  saw  at  a  still  more  distant  period ;  but  this 
casts  no  damper  on  his  spirits,  and  he  only  dances  the  longer  and 
better  for  it.  He  suffers  nothing  unpleasant  to  remain  long  upon 
his  mind.  He  gives,  in  one  place,  a  miserable  description  of  two 
emaciated  valetudinarians  whom  he  met  at  an  inn,  supping  a  little 
mutton-broth  with  difficulty ;  but  he  immediately  contrasts  himself 
with  them  in  fine  relief.  "  While  I  beheld  things  with  astonishment, 
the  servant,"  he  says,  "  brought  in  dinner — a  pound  of  rump-steaks 
and  a  quart  of  green  peas,  two  cuts  of  bread,  a  tankard  of  strong 
beer,  and  a  pint  of  port  wine ;  with  a  fine  appetite  I  soon  despatched 
my  mess,  and  over  my  wine,  to  help  digestion,  began,  to  sing  the  following 
lines."  The  astonishment  of  the  two  strangers  was  now  as  great  as 
his  own  had  been. 

We  wish  to  enable  our  readers  to  judge  for  themselves  of  the  style 
of  our  whimsical  moralist,  but  are  at  a  loss  what  to  choose — whether 
his  account  of  his  man  O'Fin,  or  of  his  friend  Tom  Fleming,  or  of  his 
being  chased  over  the  mountains  by  robbers,  "  whisking  before  them 
like  the  wind  away,"  as  if  it  were  high  sport ;  or  his  address  to  the 
sun,  which  is  an  admirable  piece  of  serious  eloquence  ;  or  his  char- 
acter of  six  Irish  gentlemen — Mr.  Gollogher,  Mr.  Gallaspy,  Mr. 
Dunkley,  Mr.  Makins,  Mr.  Monaghan,  and  Mr.  O'Keefe — the  last 
"descended  from  the  Irish  kings,  and  first-cousin  to  the  great  O'Keefe, 
who  was  buried  not  long  ago  in  Westminster  Abbey."  He  professes 
to  give  an  account  of  these  Irish  gentlemen,  "for  the  honour  of 
Ireland,  and  as  they  were  curiosities  of  humankind."  Curiosities, 
indeed,  but  not  so  great  as  their  historian  ! — 

"  Mr.  Makins  was  the  only  one  of  the  set  who  was  not  tall  and 
handsome.  He  was  a  very  low  thin  man,  not  four  feet  high,  and  had 
but  one  eye,  with  which  he  squinted  most  shockingly.  But  as  he 
was  matchless  on  the  fiddle,  sang  well,  and  chatted  agreeably,  he 
was  a  favourite  with  the  ladies.  They  preferred  ugly  Makins  (as  he 
was  called)  to  many  very  handsome  men.  He  was  a  Unitarian. 

"Mr.  Monaghan  was  an  honest  and  charming  fellow.  This 
gentleman  and  Mr.  Dunkley  married  ladies  they  fell  in  love  with 
at  Harrogate  Wells ;  Dunkley  had  the  fair  Alcmena,  Miss  Cox  of 
Northumberland;  and  Monaghan,  Antiope  with  haughty  charms 


44  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

Miss  Pearson  of  Cumberland.  They  lived  very  happy  many  years, 
and  their  children,  I  hear,  are  settled  in  Ireland ! " 

Gentle  reader,  here  is  the  character  of  Mr.  Gallaspy : 

"Gallaspy  was  the  tallest  and  strongest  man  I  have  ever  seen, 
well-made,  and  very  handsome :  had  wit  and  abilities,  sang  well, 
and  talked  with  great  sweetness  and  fluency,  but  was  so  extremely 
wicked  that  it  were  better  for  him  if  he  had  been  a  natural  fool. 
By  his  vast  strength  and  activity,  his  riches  and  eloquence,  few 
things  could  withstand  him.  He  was  the  most  profane  swearer  I 
have  known;  fought  everything,  whored  everything,  and  drank 
seven-in-hand — that  is,  seven  glasses  so  placed  between  the  fingers 
of  his  right  hand  that,  in  drinking,  the  liquor  fell  into  the  next 
glasses,  and  thereby  he  drank  out  of  the  first  glass  seven  glasses  at 
once.  This  was  a  common  thing,  I  find  from  a  book  in  my  posses- 
sion, in  the  reign  of  Charles  II.,  in  the  madness  that  followed  the 
restoration  of  that  profligate  and  worthless  prince.  But  this  gentle- 
man was  the  only  man  I  ever  saw  who  could  or  would  attempt  to 
do  it ;  and  he  made  but  one  gulp  of  whatever  he  drank.  He  did 
not  swallow  a  fluid  like  other  people,  but  if  it  was  a  quart,  poured 
it  in  as  from  pitcher  to  pitcher.  When  he  smoked  tobacco,  he 
always  blew  two  pipes  at  once,  one  at  each  corner  of  his  mouth, 
and  threw  the  smoke  out  at  both  his  nostrils.  He  had  killed  two 
men  in  duels  before  I  left  Ireland,  and  would  have  been  hanged,  but 
that  it  was  his  good  fortune  to  be  tried  before  a  judge  who  never 
let  any  man  suffer  for  killing  another  in  this  manner.  (This  was 
the  late  Sir  John  St.  Leger.)  He  debauched  all  the  women  he 
could,  and  many  whom  he  could  not  corrupt "...  The  rest  of 
this  passage  would,  we  fear,  be  too  rich  for  the  "Round  Table," 
as  we  cannot  insert  it,  in  the  manner  of  Mr.  Buncle,  in  a  sand- 
wich of  theology.  Suffice  it  to  say,  that  the  candour  is  greater 
than  the  candour  of  Voltaire's  "Candide,"  and  the  modesty  equal 
to  Colley  Gibber's. 

To  his  friend  Mr.  Gollogher  he  consecrates  the  following  irre- 
sistible petit  souvenir : — 

"  He  might,  if  he  had  pleased,  have  married  any  one  of  the  most 
illustrious  and  richest  women  in  the  kingdom ;  but  he  had  an  aver- 
sion to  matrimony,  and  could  not  bear  the  thoughts  of  a  wife. 
Love  and  a  bottle  were  his  taste.  He  was,  however,  the  most 
honourable  of  men  in  his  amours,  and  never  abandoned  any  woman 
in  distress,  as  too  many  men  of  fortune  do  when  they  have  gratified 
desire.  All  the  distressed  were  ever  sharers  in  Mr.  Gollogher's  fine 
estate,  and  especially  the  girls  he  had  taken  to  his  breast.  Ho 
provided  happily  for  them  all,  and  left  nineteen  daughters  he  had 


ON  "JOHN  BUNCLE."  45 

by  several  women  a  thousand  pounds  each.  This  was  acting  with 
a  temper  worthy  of  a  man ;  and  to  the  memory  of  the  benevolent  Tom 
Gollogher  I  devote  this  memorandum." 

Lest  our  readers  should  form  rather  a  coarse  idea  of  our  author 
from  the  foregoing  passages,  we  will  conclude  with  another  list  of 
friends  in  a  different  style : — 

"  The  Conniving-house  (as  the  gentlemen  of  Trinity  called  it  in 
my  time,  and  long  after)  was  a  little  public-house,  kept  by  Jack 
Macklean,  about  a  quarter  of  a  mile  beyond  Ringsend,  on  the  top 
of  the  beach,  within  a  few  yards  of  the  sea.  Here  we  used  to  have 
the  finest  fish  at  all  times ;  and,  in  the  season,  green  peas,  and  all 
the  most  excellent  vegetables.  The  ale  here  was  always  extra- 
ordinary, and  everything  the  best ;  which,  with  its  delightful  situa- 
tion, rendered  it  a  delightful  place  of  a  summer's  evening.  Many 
a  delightful  evening  have  I  passed  in  this  pretty  thatched  house 
with  the  famous  Larry  Grogan,  who  played  on  the  bagpipes  ex- 
tremely well ;  dear  Jack  Lattin,  matchless  on  the  fiddle,  and  the 
most  agreeable  of  companions ;  that  ever-charming  young  fellow, 
Jack  Wall,  the  most  worthy,  the  most  ingenious,  the  most  en- 
gaging of  men,  the  son  of  Counsellor  Maurice  Wall ;  and  many 
other  delightful  fellows,  who  went  in  the  days  of  their  youth  to 
the  shades  of  eternity.  When  1  think  of  them  and  their  evening 
songs — '  \\'e  will  go  to  Johnny  MacJclean's,  to  try  if  his  ale  be  good  or 
no,'  &c. — and  that  years  and  infirmities  begin  to  oppress  me — what 
is  life  ?  " 

We  have  another  English  author,  very  different  from  the  last- 
mentioned  one,  but  equal  in  naivete,  and  in  the  perfect  display  of 
personal  character ;  we  mean  Izaak  Walton,  who  wrote  the  "  Com- 
plete Angler."  That  well-known  work  has  an  extreme  simplicity, 
and  an  extreme  interest,  arising  out  of  its  very  simplicity.  In  the 
description  of  a  fishing-tackle  you  perceive  the  piety  and  humanity 
of  the  author's  mind.  This  is  the  best  pastoral  in  the  language, 
not  excepting  Pope's  or  Philips's.  We  doubt  whether  Sannazarius' 
"  Piscatory  Eclogues  "  are  equal  to  the  scenes  described  by  Walton 
on  the  banks  of  the  river  Lea.  He  gives  the  feeling  of  the  open  air. 
We  walk  with  him  along  the  dusty  roadside,  or  repose  on  the  banks 
of  the  river  under  a  shady  tree,  and  in  watching  for  the  finny  prey 
imbibe  what  he  beautifully  calls  "the  patience  and  simplicity  of 
poor  honest  fishermen."  We  accompany  them  to  their  inn  at  night, 
and  partake  of  their  simple  but  delicious  fare,  while  Maud,  the  pretty 
milkmaid,  at  her  mother's  desire,  sings  the  classical  ditties  of  Sir 
Walter  Raleigh.  Good  cheer  is  not  neglected  in  this  work,  any 
more  than  in  "  John  Buncle,"  or  any  other  history  which  sets  a 


46          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

proper  value  on  the  good  things  of  life.  The  prints  in  the  "  Com- 
plete Angler "  give  an  additional  reality  and  interest  to  the  scenes 
it  describes.  While  Tottenham  Cross  shall  stand,  and  longer,  thy 
work,  amiable  and  happy  old  man,  shall  last ! 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  ROUSSEAU. 

MADAME  DE  STAEL,  in  her  "  Letters  on  the  Writings  and  Character 
of  Rousseau,"  gives  it  as  her  opinion  "  that  the  imagination  was  the 
first  faculty  of  his  mind,  and  that  this  faculty  even  absorbed  all  the 
others."  And  she  further  adds, "  Rousseau  had  great  strength  of 
reason  on  abstract  questions,  or  with  respect  to  objects  which  have 
no  reality  but  in  the  mind."  Both  these  opinions  are  radically 
wrong.  Neither  imagination  nor  reason  can  properly  be  said  to 
have  been  the  original  predominant  faculty  of  his  mind.  The 
strength  both  of  imagination  and  reason  which  he  possessed  was 
borrowed  from  the  excess  of  another  faculty ;  and  the  weakness 
and  poverty  of  reason  and  imagination  which  are  to  be  found  in 
his  works  may  be  traced  to  the  same  source — namely,  that  these 
faculties  in  him  were  artificial,  secondary,  and  dependent,  operating 
by  a  power  not  theirs,  but  lent  to  them.  The  only  quality  which 
he  possessed  in  an  eminent  degree,  which  alone  raised  him  above 
ordinary  men,  and  which  gave  to  his  writings  and  opinions  an 
influence  greater,  perhaps,  than  has  been  exerted  by  any  individual 
in  modern  times,  was  extreme  sensibility,  or  an  acute  and  even 
morbid  feeling  of  all  that  related  to  his  own  impressions,  to  the 
objects  and  events  of  his  life.  He  had  the  most  intense  conscious- 
ness of  his  own  existence.  No  object  that  had  once  made  an  im- 
pression on  him  was  ever  after  effaced.  Every  feeling  in  his  mind 
became  a  passion.  His  craving  after  excitement  was  an  appetite 
and  a  disease.  His  interest  in  his  own  thoughts  and  feelings  was 
always  wound  up  to  the  highest  pitch,  and  hence  the  enthusiasm 
which  he  excited  in  others.  He  owed  the  power  which  he  exercised 
over  the  opinions  of  all  Europe,  by  which  he  created  numberless 
disciples,  and  overturned  established  systems,  to  the  tyranny  which 
his  feelings  in  the  first  instance  exercised  over  himself.  The 
dazzling  blaze  of  his  reputation  was  kindled  by  the  same  fire  that 
fed  upon  his  vitals.1  His  ideas  differed  from  those  of  other  men 

1  He  did   more  towards   the   French   Revolution   than  any  other  man. 
Voltaire,  by  bis  wit  and  penetration,  had  rendered  superstition  contemptioie 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  ROUSSEAU.  47 

only  in  their  force  and  intensity.  His  genius  was  the  effect  of 
his  temperament.  He  created  nothing,  he  demonstrated  nothing, 
by  a  pure  effort  of  the  understanding.  His  fictitious  characters 
are  modifications  of  his  own  being,  reflections  and  shadows  of 
himself.  His  speculations  are  the  obvious  exaggerations  of  a 
mind  giving  a  loose  to  its  habitual  impulses,  and  moulding  all 
nature  to  its  own  purposes.  Hence  his  enthusiasm  and  his  elo- 
quence, bearing  down  all  opposition.  Hence  the  warmth  and  the 
luxuriance  as  well  as  the  sameness  of  his  descriptions.  Hence  the 
frequent  verboseness  of  his  style ;  for  passion  lends  force  and  reality 
to  language,  and  makes  words  supply  the  place  of  imagination. 
Hence  the  tenaciousness  of  his  logic,  the  acuteness  of  his  observa- 
tions, the  refinement  and  the  inconsistency  of  his  reasoning.  Hence 
his  keen  penetration,  and  his  strange  want  of  comprehension  of 
mind;  for  the  same  intense  feeling  which  enabled  him  to  discern 
the  first  principles  of  things,  and  seize  some  one  view  of  a  subject  in 
all  its  ramifications,  prevented  him  from  admitting  the  operation 
of  other  causes  which  interfered  with  his  favourite  purpose,  and 
involved  him  in  endless  wilful  contradictions.  Hence  his  excessive 
egotism,  which  filled  all  objects  with  himself,  and  would  have  oc- 
cupied the  universe  with  his  smallest  interest.  Hence  his  jealousy 
and  suspicion  of  others ;  for  no  attention,  no  respect  or  sympathy, 
could  come  up  to  the  extravagant  claims  of  his  self-love.  Hence  his 
dissatisfaction  with  himself  and  with  all  around  him ;  for  nothing 
could  satisfy  his  ardent  longings  after  good,  his  restless  appetite  of 
being.  Hence  his  feelings,  overstrained  and  exhausted,  recoiled  upon 
themselves,  and  produced  his  love  of  silence  and  repose,  his  feverish 
aspirations  after  the  quiet  and  solitude  of  nature.  Hence  in  part 
also  his  quarrel  with  the  artificial  institutions  and  distinctions  of 
society,  which  opposed  so  many  barriers  to  the  unrestrained  in- 
dulgence of  his  will,  and  allured  his  imagination  to  scenes  of 
pastoral  simplicity  or  of  savage  life,  where  the  passions  were  either 
not  excited  or  left  to  follow  their  own  impulse — where  the  petty 
vexations  and  irritating  disappointments  of  common  life  had  no 
place — and  where  the  tormenting  pursuits  of  arts  and  sciences  were 
lost  in  pure  animal  enjoyment  or  indolent  repose.  Thus  he  describes 
the  first  savage  wandering  for  ever  under  the  shade  of  magnificent 
forests  or  by  the  side  of  mighty  rivers,  smit  with  the  unquenchable 
love  of  nature ! 

and  tyranny  odious ;  but  it  was  Rousseau  who  brought  the  feeling  of  irre- 
concilable enmity  to  rank  and  privileges,  above  humanity,  home  to  the  bosom 
of  every  man  —  identified  it  with  all  the  pride  of  intellect  and  with  the 
deepest  yearnings  of  the  human  heart. 

H 


48  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

The  best  of  all  his  works  is  the  "  Confessions,"  though  it  is  that 
which  has  been  least  read,  because  it  contains  the  fewest  set  para- 
doxes or  general  opinions.     It  relates  entirely  to  himself;  and  no 
one  was  ever  so  much  at  home  on  this  subject  as  he  was.    From  the 
strong  hold  which  they  had  taken  of  his  mind,  he  makes  us  enter 
into  his  feelings  as  if  they  had  been  our  own,  and  we  seem  to 
remember  every  incident  and  circumstance  of  his  life  as  if  it  had 
happened  to  ourselves.     We  are  never  tired  of  this  work,  for  it 
everywhere  presents  us  with  pictures  which  we  can  fancy  to  be 
counterparts  of  our  own  existence.     The  passages  of  this  sort  are 
innumerable.     There  is  the  interesting  account  of  his  childhood, 
the  constraints  and  thoughtless  liberty  of  which  are  so  well  de- 
scribed ;  of  his  sitting  up  all  night  reading  romances  with  his  father, 
till  they  were  forced  to  desist  by  hearing  the  swallows  twittering  in 
their  nests;  his  crossing  the  Alps,  described  with  all  the  feelings 
belonging  to  it — his  pleasure  in  setting  out,  his  satisfaction  in 
coming  to  his  journey's  end,  the  delight  of  "  coming  and  going  he 
knew  not  where;"  his  arriving  at  Turin;  the  figure  of  Madame 
Basile,  drawn  with  such  inimitable  precision  and  elegance;   the 
delightful  adventure  of  the  Chateau  de  Toune,  where  he  passed  the 
day  with  Mademoiselle  G  *  *  *  *  and  Mademoiselle  Galley;  the 
story  of  his  Zulietta,  the  proud,  the  charming  Zulietta,  whose  last 
words,  "  Va  Zanetto,  e  studio,  la  Matematica"  were  never  to  be  for- 
gotten ;  his  sleeping  near  Lyons  in  a  niche  of  the  wall,  after  a  fine 
summer's  day,  with  a  nightingale  perched  above  his  head ;  his  first 
meeting  with  Madame  Warens,  the  pomp  of  sound  with  which  he 
has  celebrated  her  name,  beginning  "Louise  Eleonore  de  Warens 
etoit  une  demoiselle  de  la  Tour  de  Pil,  noble  et  ancienne  famille  de 
Vevai,  ville  du  pays  de  Vaud"  (sounds  which  we  still  tremble  to 
repeat)  ;  his  description  of  her  person,  her  angelic  smile,  her  mouth 
of  the  si^e  of  his  own ;  his  walking  out  one  day  while  the  bells  were 
chiming  to  vespers,  and  anticipating  in  a  sort  of  waking  dream  the 
life  he  afterwards  led  with  her,  in  which  months  and  years,  and  life 
itself,  passed  away  in  undisturbed  felicity ;  the  sudden  disappoint- 
ment of  his  hopes;  his  transport  thirty  years  after  at  seeing  the 
same  flower  which  they  had  brought  home  together  from  one  of 
their  rambles  near  Chambery ;  his  thoughts  in  that  long  interval  of 
time ;  his  suppers  with  Grimm  and  Diderot  after  he  came  to  Paris ; 
the  first  idea  of  his  prize  dissertation  on  the  savage  state;  his 
account   of   writing   the  "New  Eloise,"  and    his  attachment   to 
Madame  d'Houdetot ;  his  literary  projects,  his  fame,  his  misfortunes, 
his  unhappy  temper;  his  last  solitary  retirement  in  the  lake  and 
island  of  Bienne,  with  his  dog  and  his  boat;  his  reveries  and 


THE  CHARACTER  OF  ROUSSEAU.  49 

delicious  musings  there — all  these  crowd  into  our  minds  with  recol- 
lections which  we  do  not  choose  to  express.  There  are  no  passages 
in  the  "  New  Eloise  "  of  equal  force  and  beauty  with  the  best  descrip- 
tions in  the  "  Confessions,"  if  we  except  the  excursion  on  the  water, 
Julia's  last  letter  to  St.  Preux,  and  his  letter  to  her,  recalling  the 
days  of  their  first  loves.  We  spent  two  whole  years  in  reading 
these  two  works,  and  (gentle  reader,  it  was  when  we  were  young)  in 
shedding  tears  over  them, 

"  As  fast  as  the  Arabian  trees 


Their  medicinal  gums." 

They  were  the  happiest  years  of  our  life.  We  may  well  say  of  them, 
sweet  is  the  dew  of  their  memory,  and  pleasant  the  balm  of  their 
recollection !  There  are,  indeed,  impressions  which  neither  time  nor 
circumstances  can  efface. 

Rousseau,  in  all  his  writings,  never  once  lost  sight  of  himself. 
He  was  the  same  individual  from  first  to  last.  The  springs  that 
moved  his  passions  never*  went  down,  the  pulse  that  agitated  his 
heart  never  ceased  to  beat.  It  was  this  strong  feeling  of  interest, 
accumulating  in  his  mind,  which  overpowers  and  absorbs  the  feel- 
ings of  his  readers.  He  owed  all  his  power  to  sentiment.  The 
writer  who  most  nearly  resembles  him  in  our  own  times  is  the 
author  of  the  "Lyrical  Ballads."  We  see  no  other  difference 
between  them,  than  that  the  one  wrote  hi  prose  and  the  other  in 
poetry,  and  that  prose  is  perhaps  better  adapted  to  express  those 
local  and  personal  feelings,  which  are  inveterate  habits  in  the  mind, 
than  poetry,  which  embodies  its  imaginary  creations.  We  conceive 
that  Rousseau's  exclamation, "  Ah,  voild  de  lapervenche  !  "  comes  more 
home  to  the  mind  than  Mr.  Wordsworth's  discovery  of  the  linnet's 
nest  "with  five  blue  eggs,"  or  than  his  address  to  the  cuckoo, 
beautiful  as  we  think  it  is;  and  we  will  confidently  match  the 
citizen  of  Geneva's  adventures  on  the  Lake  of  Bienne  against  the 
Cumberland  poet's  floating  dreams  on  the  Lake  of  Grasmere. 
Both  create  an  interest  out  of  nothing,  or  rather  out  of  their  own 
feelings ;  both  weave  numberless  recollections  into  one  sentiment ; 
both  wind  their  own  being  round  whatever  object  occurs  to  them. 
But  Rousseau,  as  a  prose-writer,  gives  only  the  habitual  and  per- 
sonal impression.  Mr.  Wordsworth,  as  a  poet,  is  forced  to  lend  the 
colours  of  imagination  to  impressions  which  owe  all  their  force  to 
their  identity  with  themselves,  and  tries  to  paint  what  is  only  to 
be  felt.  Rousseau,  in  a  word,  interests  you  in  certain  objects  by 
interesting  you  in  himself:  Mr.  Wordsworth  would  persuade  you 
that  the  most  insignificant  objects  are  interesting  in  themselves, 


50          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

because  he  is  interested  in  them.  If  he  had  met  with  Rousseau's 
favourite  periwinkle,  he  would  have  translated  it  into  the  most 
beautiful  of  flowers. 

This  is  not  imagination,  but  want  of  sense.  If  his  jealousy  of 
the  sympathy  of  others  makes  him  avoid  what  is  beautiful  and 
grand  in  nature,  why  does  he  undertake  elaborately  to  describe 
other  objects  ?  His  nature  is  a  mere  Dulcinea  del  Toboso,  and  he 
would  make  a  Vashti  of  her.  Rubens  appears  to  have  been  as 
extravagantly  attached  to  his  three  wives  as  Raphael  was  to  his 
Fornarina ;  but  their  faces  were  not  so  classical.  The  three  greatest 
egotists  that  we  know  of — that  is,  the  three  writers  who  felt  their 
own  being  most  powerfully  and  exclusively — are  Rousseau,  Words- 
worth, and  Benvenuto  Cellini.  As  Swift  somewhere  says,  we  defy 
the  world  to  furnish  out  a  fourth. 


GOOD-NATUKE. 

LORD  SHAFTESBURY  somewhere  remarks  that  a  great  many  people 
pass  for  very  good-natured  persons  for  no  other  reason  than  because 
they  care  about  nobody  but  themselves ;  and  consequently,  as  nothing 
annoys  them  but  what  touches  their  own  interest,  they  never  irritate 
themselves  unnecessarily  about  what  does  not  concern  them,  and 
seem  to  be  made  of  the  very  milk  of  human  kindness. 

Good-nature — or  what  is  often  considered  as  such — is  the  most 
selfish  of  all  the  virtues ;  it  is,  nine  times  out  of  ten,  mere  indolence 
of  disposition.  A  good-natured  man  is,  generally  speaking,  one  who 
does  not  like  to  be  put  out  of  his  way ;  and,  as  long  as  he  can  help 
it — that  is,  till  the  provocation  comes  home  to  himself — he  will 
not.  He  does  not  create  fictitious  uneasiness  out  of  the  distresses  of 
others ;  he  does  not  fret  and  fume  and  make  himself  uncomfortable 
about  things  he  cannot  mend,  and  that  no  way  concern  him  even  if 
he  could ;  but  then  there  is  no  one  who  is  more  apt  to  be  discon- 
certed by  what  puts  him  to  any  personal  inconvenience,  however 
trifling ;  who  is  more  tenacious  of  his  selfish  indulgences,  however 
unreasonable ;  or  who  resents  more  violently  any  interruption  of  his 
ease  and  comforts — the  very  trouble  he  is  put  to  in  resenting  it 
being  felt  as  an  aggravation  of  the  injury.  A  person  of  this  char- 
acter feels  no  emotions  of  anger  or  detestation  if  you  tell  him  of  the 
devastation  of  a  province,  or  the  massacre  of  the  inhabitants  of  a 
town  or  the  enslaving  of  a  people ;  but  if  his  dinner  is  spoiled  by  a 


GOOD-NATURE.  51 

lump  of  soot  falling  down  the  chimney  he  is  thrown  into  the  utmost 
confusion,  and  can  hardly  recover  a  decent  command  of  his  temper 
for  the  whole  day.  He  thinks  nothing  can  go  amiss  so  long  as  he 
is  at  his  ease,  though  a  pain  in  his  little  finger  makes  him  so  peevish 
and  quarrelsome  that  nobody  can  come  near  him.  Knavery  and 
injustice  in  the  abstract  are  things  that  by  no  means  ruffle  his 
temper  or  alter  the  serenity  of  his  countenance,  unless  he  is  to  be 
the  sufferer  by  them ;  nor  is  he  ever  betrayed  into  a  passion  in 
answering  a  sophism,  if  he  does  not  think  it  immediately  directed 
against  his  own  interest. 

On  the  contrary,  we  sometimes  meet  with  persons  who  regularly 
heat  themselves  in  an  argument,  and  get  out  of  humour  on  every 
occasion,  and  make  themselves  obnoxious  to  a  whole  company  about 
nothing.  This  is  not  because  they  are  ill-tempered,  but  because 
they  are  in  earnest.  Good-nature  is  a  hypocrite ;  it  tries  to  pass  off 
its  love  of  its  own  ease,  and  indifference  to  everything  else,  for  a 
particular  softness  and  mildness  of  disposition.  All  people  get  in  a 
passion  and  lose  their  temper  if  you  offer  to  strike  them  dr  cheat 
them  of  their  money — that  is,  if  you  interfere  with  that  which  they 
are  really  interested  in.  Tread  on  the  heel  of  one  of  these  good- 
natured  persons — who  do  not  care  if  the  whole  world  is  in  flames — 
and  see  how  he  will  bear  it.  If  the  truth  were  known,  the  most 
disagreeable  people  are  the  most  amiable.  They  are  the  only  persons 
who  feel  an  interest  in  what  does  not  concern  them.  They  have  as 
much  regard  for  others  as  they  have  for  themselves.  They  have  as 
many  vexations  and  causes  of  complaint  as  there  are  in  the  world. 
They  are  general  righters  of  wrongs  and  redressers  of  grievances. 
They  not  only  are  annoyed  by  what  they  can  help — by  an  act  of 
inhumanity  done  in  the  next  street,  or  in  a  neighbouring  country 
by  their  own  countrymen ;  they  riot  only  do  not  claim  any  share  in 
the  glory,  and  hate  it  the  more,  the  more  brilliant  the  success ;  but 
a  piece  of  injustice  done  three  thousand  years  ago  touches  them  to 
the  quick.  They  have  an  unfortunate  attachment  to  a  set  of  abstract 
phrases,  such  as  liberty,  truth,  justice,  humanity,  honour,  which  are 
continually  abused  by  knaves  and  misunderstood  by  fools ;  and  they 
can  hardly  contain  themselves  for  spleen.  They  have  something  to 
keep  them  in  perpetual  hot  water.  No  sooner  is  one  question  set 
at  rest  than  another  rises  up  to  perplex  them.  They  wear  them- 
selves to  the  bone  in  the  affairs  of  other  people,  to  whom  they  can 
do  no  manner  of  service,  to  the  neglect  of  their  own  business  and 
pleasure.  They  tease  themselves  to  death  about  the  morality  of 
the  Turks  or  the  politics  of  the  French.  There  are  certain  words 
that  afflict  their  ears  and  things  that  lacerate  their  souls,  and  remain 


52          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

a  plague-spot  there  for  ever  after.  They  have  a  fellow-feeling  with 
all  that  has  been  done,  said,  or  thought  in  the  world.  They  have 
an  interest  in  all  science  and  in  all  art.  They  hate  a  lie  as  much  as 
a  wrong,  for  truth  is  the  foundation  of  all  justice.  Truth  is  the 
first  thing  in  their  thoughts,  then  mankind,  then  their  country,  last 
themselves.  They  love  excellence  and  bow  to  fame,  which  is  the 
shadow  of  it.  Above  all,  they  are  anxious  to  see  justice  done  to 
the  dead,  as  the  best  encouragement  to  the  living  and  the  lasting 
inheritance  of  future  generations.  They  do  not  like  to  see  a  great 
principle  undermined,  or  the  fall  of  a  great  man.  They  would 
sooner  forgive  a  blow  in  the  face  than  a  wanton  attack  on 
acknowledged  reputation.  The  contempt  in  which  the  French  hold 
Shakspeare  is  a  serious  evil  to  them ;  nor  do  they  think  the  matter 
mended  when  they  hear  an  Englishman,  who  would  be  thought  a 
profound  one,  say  that  Voltaire  was  a  man  without  wit.  They  are 
vexed  to  see  genius  playing  at  Tom  Fool  and  honesty  turned  bawd. 
It  gives  them  a  cutting  sensation  to  see  a  number  of  things  which, 
as  they 'are  unpleasant  to  see,  we  shall  not  here  repeat.  In  short, 
they  have  a  passion  for  truth ;  they  feel  the  same  attachment  to 
the  idea  of  what  is  right  that  a  knave  does  to  his  interest,  or  that 
a  good-natured  man  does  to  his  ease ;  and  they  have  as  many  sources 
of  uneasiness  as  there  are  actual  or  supposed  deviations  from  this 
standard  in  the  sum  of  things,  or  as  there  is  a  possibility  of  folly 
and  mischief  in  the  world. 

Principle  is  a  passion  for  truth — an  incorrigible  attachment  to  a 
general  proposition.  Good-nature  is  humanity  that  costs  nothing. 
No  good-natured  man  was  ever  a  martyr  to  a  cause — in  religion  or 
politics.  He  has  no  idea  of  striving  against  the  stream.  He  may 
become  a  good  courtier  and  a  loyal  subject ;  and  it  is  hard  if  he 
does  not,  for  he  has  nothing  to  do  in  that  case  but  to  consult  his 
ease,  interest,  and  outward  appearances.  The  Vicar  of  Bray  was  a 
good-natured  man.  What  a  pity  he  was  but  a  vicar  !  A  good- 
natured  man  is  utterly  unfit  for  any  situation  or  office  in  life  that 
requires  integrity,  fortitude,  or  generosity — any  sacrifice,  except  of 
opinion,  or  any  exertion,  but  to  please.  A  good-natured  man  will 
debauch  his  friend's  mistress,  if  he  has  an  opportunity,  and  betray 
his  friend  sooner  than  share  disgrace  or  danger  with  him.  He  will 
not  forego  the  smallest  gratification  to  save  the  whole  world.  He 
makes  his  own  convenience  the  standard  of  right  and  wrong.  He 
avoids  the  feeling  of  pain  in  himself,  and  shuts  his  eyes  to  the 
sufferings  of  others.  He  will  put  a  malefactor  or  an  innocent 
person  (no  matter  which)  to  the  rack,  and  only  laugh  at  the  un- 
couthness  of  the  gestures,  or  wonder  that  he  is  so  unmannerly  as 


GOOD-NATURE.  53 

to  cry  out.  There  is  no  villainy  to  which  he  will  not  lend  a  helping 
hand  with  great  coolness  and  cordiality,  for  he  sees  only  the  pleasant 
and  profitable  side  of  things.  He  will  assent  to  a  falsehood  with  a 
leer  of  complacency,  and  applaud  any  atrocity  that  comes  recom- 
mended in  the  garb  of  authority.  He  will  betray  his  country 
to  please  a  Minister,  and  sign  the  death-warrant  of  thousands  of 
wretches,  rather  than  forfeit  the  congenial  smile,  the  well-known 
squeeze  of  the  hand.  The  shrieks  of  death,  the  torture  of  mangled 
limbs,  the  last  groans  of  despair,  are  things  that  shock  his  smooth 
humanity  too  much  ever  to  make  an  impression  on  it ;  his  good- 
nature sympathises  only  with  the  smile,  the  bow,  the  gracious 
salutation,  the  fawning  answer :  vice  loses  its  sting,  and  corruption 
its  poison,  in  the  oily  gentleness  of  his  disposition.  He  will  not 
hear  of  anything  wrong  in  Church  or  State.  He  will  defend  every 
abuse  by  which  anything  is  to  be  got,  every  dirty  job,  every  act 
of  every  Minister.  In  an  extreme  case,  a  very  good-natured  man 
indeed  may  try  to  hang  twelve  honester  men  than  himself  to  rise 
at  the  Bar,  and  forge  the  seal  of  the  realm  to  continue  his  colleagues 
a  week  longer  in  office.  He  is  a  slave  to  the  will  of  others,  a  coward 
to  their  prejudices,  a  tool  of  their  vices.  A  good-natured  man  is 
no  more  fit  to  be  trusted  in  public  affairs  than  a  coward  or  a  woman 
is  to  lead  an  army.  Spleen  is  the  soul  of  patriotism  and  of  public 
good.  Lord  Castlereagh  is  a  good-natured  man,  Lord  Eldon  is 
a  good-natured  man,  Charles  Fox  was  a  good-natured  man.  The 
last  instance  is  the  most  decisive.  The  definition  of  a  true  patriot 
is  a  good  hater. 

A  king  who  is  a  good-natured  man  is  in  a  fair  way  of  being  a 
great  tyrant.  A  king  ought  to  feel  concern  for  all  to  whom  his 
power  extends ;  but  a  good-natured  man  cares  only  about  himself. 
If  he  has  a  good  appetite,  eats  and  sleeps  well,  nothing  in  the 
universe  besides  can  disturb  him.  The  destruction  of  the  lives  or 
liberties  of  his  subjects  will  not  stop  him  in  the  least  of  his  caprices, 
but  will  concoct  well  with  his  bile,  and  "  good  digestion  wait  on 
appetite,  and  health  on  both."  He  will  send  out  his  mandate  to 
kill  and  destroy  with  the  same  indifference  or  satisfaction  that  he 
performs  any  natural  function  of  his  body.  The  consequences  are 
placed  beyond  the  reach  of  liis  imagination,  or  would  not  affect  him 
if  they  were  not,  for  he  is  a  fool  and  good-natured.  A  good-natured 
man  hates  more  than  any  one  else  whatever  thwarts  his  will  or 
contradicts  his  prejudices ;  and  if  he  has  the  power  to  prevent  it, 
depend  upon  it,  he  will  use  it  without  remorse  and  without  control. 

There  is  a  lower  species  of  this  character  which  is  what  is  usually 
understood  by  a  well-meaning  man.  A  well-meaning  man  is  one  who 


54  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

often  does  a  great  deal  of  mischief  without  any  kind  of  malice.  He 
means  no  one  any  harm,  if  it  is  not  for  his  interest.  He  is  not  a 
knave,  nor  perfectly  honest.  He  does  not  easily  resign  a  good  place. 
Mr.  Vansittart  is  a  well-meaning  man. 

The  Irish  are  a  good-natured  people;  they  have  many  virtues, 
but  their  virtues  are  those  of  the  heart,  not  of  the  head.  In  their 
passions  and  affections  they  are  sincere,  but  they  are  hypocrites  in 
understanding.  If  they  once  begin  to  calculate  the  consequences, 
self-interest  prevails.  An  Irishman  who  trusts  to  his  principles  and 
a  Scotchman  who  yields  to  his  impulses  are  equally  dangerous.  The 
Irish  have  wit,  genius,  eloquence,  imagination,  affections ;  but  they 
want  coherence  of  understanding,  and  consequently  have  no  standard 
of  thought  or  action.  Their  strength  of  mind  does  not  keep  pace 
with  the  warmth  of  their  feelings  or  the  quickness  of  their  concep- 
tions. Their  animal  spirits  run  away  with  them ;  their  reason  is  a 
jade.  There  is  something  crude,  indigested,  rash,  and  discordant  in 
almost  all  that  they  do  or  say.  They  have  no  system,  no  abstract 
ideas.  They  are  "  everything  by  starts,  and  nothing  long."  They 
are  a  wild  people.  They  hate  whatever  imposes  a  law  on  their 
understandings  or  a  yoke  on  their  wills.  To  betray  the  principles 
they  are  most  bound  by  their  own  professions  and  the  expectations 
of  others  to  maintain,  is  with  them  a  reclamation  of  their  original 
rights,  and  to  fly  in  the  face  of  their  benefactors  and  friends,  an 
assertion  of  their  natural  freedom  of  will.  They  want  consistency 
and  good  faith.  They  unite  fierceness  with  levity.  In  the  midst  of 
their  headlong  impulses  they  have  an  undercurrent  of  selfishness  and 
cunning,  which  in  the  end  gets  the  better  of  them.  Their  feelings, 
when  no  longer  excited  by  novelty  or  opposition,  grow  cold  and 
stagnant.  Their  blood,  if  not  heated  by  passion,  turns  to  poison. 
They  have  a  rancour  in  their  hatred  of  any  object  they  have  aban- 
doned proportioned  to  the  attachment  they  have  professed  to  it. 
Their  zeal,  converted  against  itself,  is  furious. 


COUNTRY  PEOPLE. 

[From  the  Essay  on  Wordsworth's  "Excursion."] 

ALL  country  people  hate  each  other.  They  have  so  little  comfort 
that  they  envy  their  neighbours  the  smallest  pleasure  or  advantage, 
and  nearly  grudge  themselves  the  necessaries  of  life.  From  not 
being  accustomed  to  enjoyment,  they  become  hardened  and  averse 


COUNTRY  PEOPLE.  55 

to  it — stupid,  for  want  of  thought — selfish,  for  want  of  society. 
There  is  nothing  good  to  be  had  in  the  country,  or,  if  there  is,  they 
will  not  let  you  have  it.  They  had  rather  injure  themselves  than 
oblige  any  one  else.  Their  common  mode  of  life  is  a  system  of 
wretchedness  and  self-denial,  like  what  we  read  of  among  barbarous 
tribes.  You  live  out  of  the  world.  You  cannot  get  your  tea  and 
sugar  without  sending  to  the  next  town  for  it ;  you  pay  double, 
and  have  it  of  the  worst  quality.  The  small-beer  is  sure  to  be  sour 
— the  milk  skimmed — the  meat  bad,  or  spoiled  in  the  cooking.  You 
cannot  do  a  single  thing  you  like ;  you  cannot  walk  out,  or  sit  at 
home,  or  write  or  read,  or  think  or  look  as  if  you  did,  without  being 
subject  to  impertinent  curiosity.  The  apothecary  annoys  you  with 
his  complaisance  ;  the  parson  with  his  superciliousness.  If  you  are 
poor,  you  are  despised ;  if  you  are  rich,  you  are  feared  and  hated. 
If  you  do  any  one  a  favour,  the  whole  neighbourhood  is  up  in  arms ; 
the  clamour  is  like  that  of  a  rookery ;  and  the  person  himself,  it  is 
ten  to  one,  laughs  at  you  for  your  pains,  and  takes  the  first  oppor- 
tunity of  showing  you  that  he  labours  under  no  uneasy  sense  of 
obligation.  There  is  a  perpetual  round  of  mischief-making  and 
backbiting,  for  want  of  any  better  amusement.  There  are  no  shops, 
no  taverns,  no  theatres,  no  opera,  no  concerts,  no  pictures,  no 
public  buildings,  no  crowded  streets,  no  noise  of  coaches  or  of  courts 
of  law — neither  courtiers  nor  courtesans,  no  literary  parties,  no 
fashionable  routs,  no  society,  no  books,  or  knowledge  of  books. 
Vanity  and  luxury  are  the  civilisers  of  the  world  and  sweeteners 
of  human  life.  Without  objects  either  of  pleasure  or  action,  it 
grows  harsh  and  crabbed:  the  mind  becomes  stagnant,  the  affec- 
tions callous,  and  the  eye  dull.  Man  left  to  himself  soon  de- 
generates into  a  very  disagreeable  person.  Ignorance  is  always 
bad  enough ;  but  rustic  ignorance  is  intolerable.  Aristotle  has 
observed,  that  tragedy  purifies  the  affections  by  terror  and  pity. 
If  so,  a  company  of  tragedians  should  be  established  at  the  public 
expense  in  every  village  or  hundred,  as  a  better  mode  of  education 
than  either  Bell's  or  Lancaster's.  The  benefits  of  knowledge  are 
never  so  well  understood  as  from  seeing  the  effects  of  ignorance,  in 
their  naked  undisguised  state,  upon  the  common  country  people. 
Their  selfishness  and  insensibility  are  perhaps  less  owing  to  the 
hardships  and  privations,  which  make  them,  like  people  out  at  sea 
in  a  boat,  ready  to  devour  one  another,  than  to  their  having  no 
idea  of  anything  beyond  themselves  and  their  immediate  sphere  of 
action.  They  have  no  knowledge  of,  and  consequently  can  take 
no  interest  in,  anything  which  is  not  an  object  of  their  senses  and 
of  their  daily  pursuits.  They  hate  all  strangers,  and  have  generally 


56          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

a  nickname  for  the  inhabitants  of  the  next  village.  The  two  young 
noblemen  in  "Guzman  d'Alfarache,"  who  went  to  visit  their  mistresses 
only  a  league  out  of  Madrid,  were  set  upon  by  the  peasants,  who 
came  round  them  calling  out,  "A  wolf!"  Those  who  have  no  en- 
larged or  liberal  ideas  can  have  no  disinterested  or  generous  senti- 
ments. Persons  who  are  in  the  habit  of  reading  novels  and  romances 
are  compelled  to  take  a  deep  interest  in,  and  to  have  their  affections 
strongly  excited  by,  fictitious  characters  and  imaginary  situations ; 
their  thoughts  and  feelings  are  constantly  carried  out  of  themselves, 
to  persons  they  never  saw  and  things  that  never  existed.  History 
enlarges  the  mind,  by  familiarising  us  with  the  great  vicissitudes 
of  human  affairs  and  the  catastrophes  of  states  and  kingdoms  ;  the 
study  of  morals  accustoms  us  to  refer  our  actions  to  a  general 
standard  of  right  and  wrong ;  and  abstract  reasoning,  in  general, 
strengthens  the  love  of  truth,  and  produces  an  inflexibility  of 
principle  which  cannot  stoop  to  low  trick  and  cunning.  Books, 
in  Bacon's  phrase,  are  "  a  discipline  of  humanity."  Country  people 
have  none  of  these  advantages,  nor  any  others  to  supply  the  place 
of  them.  Having  no  circulating  libraries  to  exhaust  their  love  of 
the  marvellous,  they  amuse  themselves  with  fancying  the  disasters 
and  disgraces  of  their  particular  acquaintance.  Having  no  hump- 
backed Richard  to  excite  their  wonder  and  abhorrence,  they  make 
themselves  a  bugbear  of  their  own  out  of  the  first  obnoxious  person 
they  can  lay  their  hands  on.  Not  having  the  fictitious  distresses 
and  gigantic  crimes  of  poetry  to  stimulate  their  imagination  and 
their  passions,  they  vent  their  whole  stock  of  spleen,  malice,  and 
invention  on  their  friends  and  next-door  neighbours.  They  get  up 
a  little  pastoral  drama  at  home,  with  fancied  events,  but  real  char- 
acters. All  their  spare  time  is  spent  in  manufacturing  and  propa- 
gating the  lie  for  the  day,  which  does  its  office  and  expires.  The 
next  day  is  spent  in  the  same  manner.  It  is  thus  that  they  embel- 
lish the  simplicity  of  rural  life!  The  common  people  in  civilised 
countries  are  a  kind  of  domesticated  savages.  They  have  not  the 
wild  imagination,  the  passions,  the  fierce  energies,  or  dreadful  vicis- 
situdes of  the  savage  tribes,  nor  have  they  the  leisure,  the  indolent 
enjoyments,  and  romantic  superstitions  which  belonged  to  the  pas- 
toral life  in  milder  climate  and  more  remote  periods  of  society. 
They  are  taken  out  of  a  state  of  nature,  without  being  put  in  pos- 
session of  the  refinements  of  art.  The  customs  and  institutions  of 
society  cramp  their  imaginations  without  giving  them  knowledge. 
If  the  inhabitants  of  the  mountainous  districts  described  by  Mr. 
Wordsworth  are  less  gross  and  sensual  than  others,  they  are  more 
selfish.  Their  egotism  becomes  more  concentrated  as  they  are  more 


RELIGIOUS  HYPOCRISY.  57 

insulated,  and  their  purposes  more  inveterate  as  they  have  less  com- 
petition to  struggle  with.  The  weight  of  matter  which  surrounds 
them  crushes  the  finer  sympathies.  Their  minds  become  hard  and 
cold,  like  the  rocks  which  they  cultivate.  The  immensity  of  their 
mountains  makes  the  human  form  appear  little  and  insignificant. 
Men  are  seen  crawling  between  heaven  and  earth,  like  insects  to 
their  graves.  Nor  do  they  regard  one  another  more  than  flies  on  a 
wall.  Their  physiognomy  expresses  the  materialism  of  their  char- 
acter, which  has  only  one  principle — rigid  self-will.  They  move  on 
with  their  eyes  and  foreheads  fixed,  looking  neither  to  the  right  nor 
to  the  left,  with  a  heavy  slouch  in  their  gait,  and  seeming  as  if 
nothing  would  divert  them  from  their  path.  We  do  not  admire  this 
plodding  pertinacity,  always  directed  to  the  mam  chance.  There  is 
nothing  which  excites  so  little  sympathy  in  our  minds  as  exclusive 
selfishness.  If  our  theory  is  wrong,  at  least  it  is  taken  from  pretty 
close  observation,  and  is,  we  think,  confirmed  by  Mr.  Wordsworth's 
own  account. 


RELIGIOUS  HYPOCRISY. 

RELIGION  either  makes  men  wise  and  virtuous,  or  it  makes  them  set 
tip  false  pretences  to  both.  In  the  latter  case,  it  makes  them  hypo- 
crites to  themselves  as  well  as  others.  Religion  is,  in  the  grosser 
minds,  an  enemy  to  self-knowledge.  The  consciousness  of  the  pre- 
sence of  an  all-powerful  Being,  who  is  both  the  witness  and  judge 
of  every  thought,  word,  and  action,  where  it  does  not  produce  its 
proper  effect,  forces  the  religious  man  to  practise  every  mode  of 
deceit  upon  himself  with  respect  to  his  real  character  and  motives ; 
for  it  is  only  by  being  wilfully  blind  to  his  own  faults  that  he  can 
suppose  they  will  escape  the  eye  of  Omniscience.  Consequently,  the 
whole  business  of  a  religious  man's  life,  if  it  does  not  conform  to 
the  strict  line  of  his  duty,  may  be  said  to  be  to  gloss  over  his  errors 
to  himself,  and  to  invent  a  thousand  shifts  and  palliations  in  order 
to  hoodwink  the  Almighty.  Where  he  is  sensible  of  his  own  de- 
linquency, he  knows  that  it  cannot  escape  the  penetration  of  his 
invisible  Judge ;  and  the  distant  penalty  annexed  to  every  offence, 
though  not  sufficient  to  make  him  desist  from  the  commission  of 
it,  will  not  suffer  him  to  rest  easy  till  he  has  made  some  compro- 
mise with  his  own  conscience  as  to  his  motives  for  committing  it. 
As  far  as  relates  to  this  world,  a  cunning  knave  may  take  a  pride  in 
the  imposition  he  practises  upon  others ;  and  instead  of  striving  to 


58          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

conceal  his  true  character  from  himself,  may  chuckle  with  inward 
satisfaction  at  the  folly  of  those  who  are  not  wise  enough  to  detect 
it.  "  But  'tis  not  so  above."  This  shallow  skin-deep  hypocrisy  will 
not  serve  the  turn  of  the  religious  devotee,  who  is  "  compelled  to 
give  in  evidence,  against  himself,"  and  who  must  first  become  the 
dupe  of  his  own  imposture  before  he  can  natter  himself  with  the 
hope  of  concealment,  as  children  hide  their  eyes  with  their  hands, 
and  fancy  that  no  one  can  see  them.  Religious  people  often  pray 
very  heartily  for  the  forgiveness  of  a  "  multitude  of  trespasses  and 
sins,"  as  a  mark  of  humility,  but  we  never  knew  them  admit  any 
one  fault  in  particular,  or  acknowledge  themselves  in  the  wrong  in 
any  instance  whatever.  The  natural  jealousy  of  self-love  is  in  them 
heightened  by  the  fear  of  damnation,  and  they  plead  Not  Guilty  to 
every  charge  brought  against  them  with  all  the  conscious  terrors  of 
a  criminal  at  the  bar.  It  is  for  this  reason  that  the  greatest  hypo- 
crites in  the  world  are  religious  hypocrites. 

This  quality,  as  it  has  been  sometimes  found  united  with  the 
clerical  character,  is  known  by  the  name  of  "  priestcraft."  The 
ministers  of  religion  are  perhaps  more  liable  to  this  vice  than  any 
other  class  of  people.  They  are  obliged  to  assume  a  greater  degree 
of  sanctity,  though  they  have  it  not,  and  to  screw  themselves  up  to 
an  unnatural  pitch  of  severity  and  self-denial.  They  must  keep  a 
constant  guard  over  themselves,  have  an  eye  always  to  their  own 
persons,  never  relax  in  their  gravity,  nor  give  the  least  scope  to 
their  inclinations.  A  single  slip,  if  discovered,  may  be  fatal  to 
them.  Their  influence  and  superiority  depend  on  their  pretensions 
to  virtue  and  piety;  and  they  are  tempted  to  draw  liberally  on 
the  funds  of  credulity  and  ignorance  allotted  for  their  convenient 
support.  All  this  cannot  be  very  friendly  to  downright  simplicity 
of  character.  Besides,  they  are  so  accustomed  to  inveigh  against 
the  vices  of  others  that  they  naturally  forget  that  they  have  any 
of  their  own  to  correct.  They  see  vice  as  an  object  always  out  of 
themselves,  with  which  they  have  no  other  concern  than  to  denounce 
and  stigmatise  it.  They  are  only  reminded  of  it  in  the  third  person. 
They  as  naturally  associate  sin  and  its  consequences  with  their 
flocks  as  a  pedagogue  associates  a  false  concord  and  flogging  with 
his  scholars.  If  we  may  so  express  it,  they  serve  as  conductors  to 
the  lightning  of  Divine  indignation,  and  have  only  to  point  the 
thunders  of  the  law  at  others.  They  identify  themselves  with  that 
perfect  system  of  faith  and  morals  of  which  they  are  the  professed 
teachers,  and  regard  any  imputation  on  their  conduct  as  an  indirect 
attack  on  the  function  to  which  they  belong,  or  as  compromising 
the  authority  under  which  they  act.  It  is  only  the  head  of  the 


RELIGIOUS  HYPOCRISY.  59 

Popish  church  who  assumes  the  title  of  "  God's  Vicegerent  upon 
Earth ; "  but  the  feeling  is  nearly  common  to  all  the  oracular  in- 
terpreters of  the  will  of  Heaven — from  the  successor  of  St.  Peter 
down  to  the  simple  unassuming  Quaker,  who,  disclaiming  the  im- 
posing authority  of  title  and  office,  yet  fancies  himself  the  imme- 
diate organ  of  a  preternatural  impulse,  and  affects  to  speak  only 
as  the  Spirit  moves  him. 

There  is  another  way  in  which  the  formal  profession  of  religion 
aids  hypocrisy :  by  erecting  a  secret  tribunal,  to  which  those  who 
affect  a  more  than  ordinary  share  of  it  can  (in  case  of  need)  appeal 
from  the  judgments  of  men.  The  religious  impostor  reduced  to 
his  last  shift,  and  having  no  other  way  left  to  avoid  the  most  "  open 
and  apparent  shame,"  rejects  the  fallible  decisions  of  the  world,  and 
thanks  God  that  there  is  one  who  knows  the  heart.  He  is  amenable 
to  a  higher  jurisdiction,  and  while  all  is  well  with  Heaven  he  can 
pity  the  errors  and  smile  at  the  malice  of  his  enemies.  Whatever 
cuts  men  off  from  their  dependence  on  common  opinion  or  obvious 
appearances  must  open  a  door  to  evasion  and  cunning,  by  setting 
up  a  standard  of  right  and  wrong  in  every  one's  own  breast,  of  the 
truth  of  which  nobody  can  judge  but  the  person  himself.  There 
are  some  fine  instances  in  the  old  plays  and  novels  (the  best  com- 
mentaries on  human  nature)  of  the  effect  of  this  principle  in  giving 
the  last  finishing  to  the  character  of  duplicity.  Miss  Harris,  in 
Fielding's  "  Amelia,"  is  one  of  the  most  striking.  Moliere's  Tartuffe 
is  another  instance  of  the  facility  with  which  religion  may  be  per- 
verted to  the  purposes  of  the  most  flagrant  hypocrisy.  It  is  an 
impenetrable  fastness,  to  which  this  worthy  person,  like  so  many 
others,  retires  without  the  fear  of  pursuit.  It  is  an  additional  dis- 
guise, in  which  he  wraps  himself  up  like  a  cloak.  It  is  a  stalking- 
horse,  which  is  ready  on  all  occasions — an  invisible  conscience,  which 
goes  about  with  him — his  good  genius,  that  becomes  surety  for 
him  in  all  difficulties — swears  to  the  purity  of  his  motives — extri- 
cates him  out  of  the  most  desperate  circumstances — baffles  detec- 
tion, and  furnishes  a  plea  to  which  there  is  no  answer. 

The  same  sort  of  reasoning  will  account  for  the  old  remark,  that 
persons  who  are  stigmatised  as  nonconformists  to  the  established 
religion,  Jews,  Presbyterians,  &c.,  are  more  disposed  to  this  vice 
than  their  neighbours.  They  are  inured  to  the  contempt  of  the 
world  and  steeled  against  its  prejudices ;  and  the  same  indifference 
which  fortifies  them  against  the  unjust  censures  of  mankind  may  be 
converted,  as  occasion  requires,  into  a  screen  for  the  most  pitiful 
conduct.  They  have  no  cordial  sympathy  with  others,  and  there- 
fore no  sincerity  in  their  intercourse  with  them.  It  is  the  necessity 


60          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

of  concealment,  in  the  first  instance,  that  produces,  and  is  in  some 
measure  an  excuse  for,  the  habit  of  hypocrisy. 

Hypocrisy,  as  it  is  connected  with  cowardice,  seems  to  imply  weak- 
ness of  body  or  want  of  spirit.  The  impudence  and  insensibility 
which  belong  to  it  ought  to  suppose  robustness  of  constitution. 
There  is  certainly  a  very  successful  and  formidable  class  of  sturdy, 
jolly,  able-bodied  hypocrites,  the  Friar  Johns  of  the  profession. 
Raphael  has  represented  Elymas  the  sorcerer  with  a  hard  iron 
visage  and  large  uncouth  figure,  made  up  of  bones  and  muscles ;  as 
one  not  troubled  with  weak  nerves  or  idle  scruples — as  one  who 
repelled  all  sympathy  with  others — who  was  not  to  be  jostled  out 
of  his  course  by  their  censures  or  suspicions,  and  who  could  break 
with  ease  through  the  cobweb  snares  which  he  had  laid  for  the 
credulity  of  others,  without  being  once  entangled  in  his  own  delu- 
sions. His  outward  form  betrays  the  hard,  unimaginative,  self- 
willed  understanding  of  the  sorcerer. 


COMMONPLACE  CRITICS. 

"  Nor  can  I  think  what  thoughts  they  can  conceive." 

WE  have  already  given  some  account  of  commonplace  people ;  we 
shall  now  attempt  to  give  a  description  of  another  class  of  the 
community,  who  may  be  called  (by  way  of  distinction)  commonplace 
critics.  The  former  are  a  set  of  people  who  have  no  opinions  of 
their  own,  and  do  not  pretend  to  have  any ;  the  latter  are  a  set  of 
people  who  have  no  opinions  of  their  own,  but  who  affect  to  have 
one  upon  every  subject  you  can  mention.  The  former  are  a  very 
honest,  good  sort  of  people,  who  are  contented  to  pass  for  what  they 
are  ;  the  latter  are  a  very  pragmatical,  troublesome  sort  of  people, 
who  would  pass  for  what  they  are  not,  and  try  to  put  off  their 
commonplace  notions  in  all  companies  and  on  all  subjects  as  some- 
thing of  their  own.  They  are  of  both  species,  the  grave  and  the 
gay  ;  and  it  is  hard  to  say  which  is  the  most  tiresome. 

A  commonplace  critic  has  something  to  say  upon  every  occasion, 
and  he  always  tells  you  either  what  is  not  true,  or  what  you  knew 
before,  or  what  is  not  worth  knowing.  He  is  a  person  who  thinks 
by  proxy  and  talks  by  rote.  He  diners  with  you,  not  because  he 
thinks  you  are  in  the  wrong,  but  because  he  thinks  somebody  else 
will  think  so.  Nay,  it  would  be  well  if  he  stopped  here ;  but  he  will 


COMMONPLACE  CRITICS.  6l 

undertake  to  misrepresent  you  by  anticipation  lest  others  should  mis- 
understand you,  and  will  set  you  right,  not  only  in  opinions  which 
you  have,  but  in  those  which  you  may  be  supposed  to  have.  Thus, 
if  you  say  that  Bottom  the  weaver  is  a  character  that  has  not  had 
justice  done  to  it,  he  shakes  his  head,  is  afraid  you  will  be  thought 
extravagant,  and  wonders  you  should  think  the  "  Midsummer  Night's 
Dream  "  the  finest  of  all  Shakspeare's  plays.  He  judges  of  matters 
of  taste  and  reasoning,  as  he  does  of  dress  and  fashion,  by  the  pre- 
vailing tone  of  good  company ;  and  you  would  as  soon  persuade  him 
to  give  up  any  sentiment  that  is  current  there  as  to  wear  the  hind- 
part  of  his  coat  before.  By  the  best  company,  of  which  he  is  per- 
petually talking,  he  means  persons  who  live  on  their  own  estates 
and  other  people's  ideas.  By  the  opinion  of  the  world,  to  which 
he  pays  and  expects  you  to  pay,  great  deference,  he  means  that 
of  a  little  circle  of  his  own,  where  he  hears  and  is  heard.  Again, 
good  sense  is  a  phrase  constantly  in  his  mouth,  by  which  he  does 
not  mean  his  own  sense  or  that  of  anybody  else,  but  the  opinions 
of  a  number  of  persons  who  have  agreed  to  take  their  opinions  on 
trust  from  others.  If  any  one  observes  that  there  is  something 
better  than  common  sense,  viz.,  uncommon  sense,  he  thinks  this  a 
bad  joke.  If  you  object  to  the  opinions  of  the  majority,  as  often 
arising  from  ignorance  or  prejudice,  he  appeals  from  them  to  the 
sensible  and  well-informed;  and  if  you  say  there  may  be  other 
persons  as  sensible  and  well-informed  as  himself  and  his  friends,  he 
smiles  at  your  presumption.  If  you  attempt  to  prove  anything  to 
him,  it  is  in  vain,  for  he  is  not  thinking  of  what  you  say,  but  of 
what  will  be  thought  of  it.  The  stronger  your  reasons  the  more  in- 
corrigible he  thinks  you ;  and  he  looks  upon  any  attempt  to  expose 
his  gratuitous  assumptions  as  the  wandering  of  a  disordered  imagi- 
nation. His  notions  are,  like  plastered  figures  cast  in  a  mould,  as 
brittle  as  they  are  hollow ;  but  they  will  break  before  you  can  make 
them  give  way.  In  fact,  he  is  the  representative  of  a  large  part  of 
the  community — the  shallow,  the  vain,  and  the  indolent — of  those 
who  have  time  to  talk  and  are  not  bound  to  think ;  and  he  con- 
siders any  deviation  from  the  select  forms  of  commonplace,  or  the 
accredited  language  of  conventional  impertinence,  as  compromising 
the  authority  under  which  he  acts  in  Ms  diplomatic  capacity.  It  is 
wonderful  how  this  class  of  people  agree  with  one  another;  how 
they  herd  together  in  all  their  opinions ;  what  a  tact  they  have  for 
folly;  what  an  instinct  for  absurdity;  what  a  sympathy  in  senti- 
ment ;  how  they  find  one  another  out  by  infallible  signs,  like  Free- 
masons !  The  secret  of  this  unanimity  and  strict  accord  is,  that  not 
any  one  of  them  ever  admits  any  opinion  that  can  cost  the  least 


62  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

effort  of  mind  in  arriving  at,  or  of  courage  in  declaring  it.  Folly 
is  as  consistent  with  itself  as  wisdom;  there  is  a  certain  level  of 
thought  and  sentiment  which  the  weakest  minds,  as  well  as  the 
strongest,  find  out  as  best  adapted  to  them ;  and  you  as  regularly 
come  to  the  same  conclusions  by  looking  no  farther  than  the  surface, 
as  if  you  dug  to  the  centre  of  the  earth !  You  know  beforehand 
what  a  critic  of  this  class  will  say  on  almost  every  subject  the  first 
time  he  sees  you,  the  next  time,  the  time  after  that,  and  so  on  to 
the  end  of  the  chapter.  The  following  list  of  his  opinions  may  be 
relied  on: — It  is  pretty  certain  that  before  you  have  been  in  the 
room  with  him  ten  minutes  he  will  give  you  to  understand  that 
Shakspeare  was  a  great  but  irregular  genius.  Again,  he  thinks  it  a 
question  whether  any  one  of  his  plays,  if  brought  out  now  for  the 
first  time,  would  succeed.  He  thinks  that  "  Macbeth  "  would  be  the 
most  likely,  from  the  music  which  has  been  since  introduced  into 
it.  He  has  some  doubts  as  to  the  superiority  of  the  French  school 
over  us  in  tragedy,  and  observes  that  Hume  and  Adam  Smith  were 
both  of  that  opinion.  He  thinks  Milton's  pedantry  a  great  blemish 
in  his  writings,  and  that  "  Paradise  Lost "  has  many  prosaic  passages 
in  it.  He  conceives  that  genius  does  not  always  imply  taste,  and 
that  wit  and  judgment  are  very  different  faculties.  He  considers  Dr. 
Johnson  as  a  great  critic  and  moralist,  and  that  his  Dictionary  was 
a  work  of  prodigious  erudition  and  vast  industry,  but  that  some  of 
the  anecdotes  of  him  in  "  Boswell "  are  trifling.  He  conceives  that 
Mr.  Locke  was  a  very  original  and  profound  thinker.  He  thinks 
Gibbon's  style  vigorous  but  florid.  He  wonders  that  the  author 
of  "  Junius  "  was  never  found  out.  He  thinks  Pope's  translation  of 
the  "  Iliad  "  an  improvement  on  the  simplicity  of  the  original,  which 
was  necessary  to  fit  it  to  the  taste  of  modern  readers.  He  thinks 
there  is  a  great  deal  of  grossness  in  the  old  comedies ;  and  that 
there  has  been  a  great  improvement  in  the  morals  of  the  higher 
classes  since  the  reign  of  Charles  II.  He  thinks  the  reign  of  Queen 
Anne  the  golden  period  of  our  literature,  but  that,  upon  the  whole, 
we  have  no  English  writer  equal  to  Voltaire.  He  speaks  of  Boc- 
caccio as  a  very  licentious  writer,  and  thinks  the  wit  in  Rabelais 
quite  extravagant,  though  he  never  read  either  of  them.  He  cannot 
get  through  Spenser's  "  Fairy  Queen,"  and  pronounces  all  allegorical 
poetry  tedious.  He  prefers  Smollett  to  Fielding,  and  discovers 
more  knowledge  of  the  world  in  "  Gil  Bias  "  than  in  "  Don  Quixote." 
Richardson  he  thinks  very  minute  and  tedious.  He  thinks  the 
French  Revolution  has  done  a  great  deal  of  harm  to  the  cause  of 
liberty ;  and  blames  Buonaparte  for  being  so  ambitious.  He  reads 
the  Edinburgh  and  Quarterly  Reviews,  and  thinks  as  they  do.  He  is 


COMMONPLACE  CRITICS.  63 

shy  of  having  an  opinion  on  a  new  actor  or  a  new  singer,  for  the 
public  do  not  always  agree  with  the  newspapers.  He  thinks  that 
the  moderns  have  great  advantages  over  the  ancients  in  many 
respects.  He  thinks  Jeremy  Bentham  a  greater  man  than  Aristotle. 
He  can  see  no  reason  why  artists  of  the  present  day  should  not 
paint  as  well  as  Raphael  or  Titian.  For  instance,  he  thinks  there 
is  something  very  elegant  and  classical  in  Mr.  Westall's  drawings. 
He  has  no  doubt  that  Sir  Joshua  Reynolds'  Lectures  were  written 
by  Burke.  He  considers  Home  Tooke's  account  of  the  conjunction 
That  very  ingenious,  and  holds  that  no  writer  can  be  called  elegant 
who  uses  the  present  for  the  subjunctive  mood,  who  says  If  it  is  for 
If  it  be.  He  thinks  Hogarth  a  great  master  of  low  comic  humour, 
and  Cobbett  a  coarse,  vulgar  writer.  He  often  talks  of  men  of 
liberal  education,  and  men  without  education,  as  if  that  made  much 
difference.  He  judges  of  people  by  their  pretensions;  and  pays 
attention  to  their  opinions  according  to  their  dress  and  rank  in  life 
If  he  meets  with  a  fool,  he  does  not  find  him  out ;  and  if  he  meets 
with  any  one  wiser  than  himself,  he  does  not  know  what  to  make 
of  him.  He  thinks  that  manners  are  of  great  consequence  to  the 
common  intercourse  of  life.  He  thinks  it  difficult  to  prove  the 
existence  of  any  such  thing  as  original  genius,  or  to  fix  a  general 
standard  of  taste.  He  does  not  think  it  possible  to  define  what 
wit  is.  In  religion  his  opinions  are  liberal.  He  considers  all 
enthusiasm  as  a  degree  of  madness  particularly  to  be  guarded 
against  by  young  minds ;  and  believes  that  truth  lies  in  the  middle, 
between  the  extremes  of  right  and  wrong.  He  thinks  that  the 
object  of  poetry  is  to  please ;  and  that  astronomy  is  a  very  pleasing 
and  useful  study.  He  thinks  all  this  and  a  great  deal  more,  that 
amounts  to  nothing.  We  wonder  we  have  remembered  one-half  of  it — 

"  For  true  no-meaning  puzzles  more  than  wit." 

Though  he  has  an  aversion  to  all  new  ideas,  he  likes  all  new  plans 
and  matters  of  fact :  the  new  Schools  for  All,  the  Penitentiary,  the 
new  Bedlam,  the  new  steamboats,  the  gaslights,  the  new  patent 
blacking — everything  of  that  sort  but  the  Bible  Society.  The 
Society  for  the  Suppression  of  Vice  he  thinks  a  great  nuisance,  as 
every  honest  man  must. 

In  a  word,  a  commonplace  critic  is  the  pedant  of  polite  conver- 
sation. He  refers  to  the  opinion'  of  Lord  M.  or  Lady  G.  with  the 
same  air  of  significance  that  the  learned  pedant  does  to  the  authority 
of  Cicero  or  Virgil ;  retails  the  wisdom  of  the  day,  as  the  anecdote- 
monger  does  the  wit ;  and  carries  about  with  him  the  sentiments  of 
people  of  a  certain  respectability  in  life,  as  the  dancing-master  does 
their  air  or  their  valets  their  clothes. 


64          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 


ACTOKS  AND  ACTING. 

PLAYEKS  are  "  the  abstracts  and  brief  chronicles  of  the  times,"  the 
motley  representatives  of  human  nature.  They  are  the  only  honest 
hypocrites.  Their  life  is  a  voluntary  dream,  a  studied  madness. 
The  height  of  their  ambition  is  to  be  beside  themselves.  To-day 
Icings,  to-morrow  beggars,  it  is  only  when  they  are  themselves  that 
they  are  nothing.  Made  up  of  mimic  laughter  arid  tears,  passing 
from  the  extremes  of  joy  or  woe  at  the  prompter's  call,  they  wear 
the  livery  of  other  men's  fortunes ;  their  very  thoughts  are  not  their 
own.  They  are,  as  it  were,  train-bearers  in  the  pageant  of  life,  and 
hold  a  glass  up  to  humanity,  frailer  than  itself.  We  see  ourselves 
at  second-hand  in  them ;  they  show  us  all  that  we  are,  all  that  we 
wish  to  be,  and  all  that  we  dread  to  be.  The  stage  is  an  epitome, 
a  bettered  likeness,  of  the  world,  with  the  dull  part  left  out ;  and 
indeed,  with  this  omission,  it  is  nearly  big  enough  to  hold  all  the 
rest.  What  brings  the  resemblance  nearer  is,  that,  as  they  imitate 
us,  we,  in  our  turn,  imitate  them.  How  many  fine  gentlemen  do 
we  owe  to  the  stage !  How  many  romantic  lovers  are  mere  Romeos 
in  masquerade !  How  many  soft  bosoms  have  heaved  with  Juliet's 
sighs !  They  teach  us  when  to  laugh  and  when  to  weep,  when  to 
love  and  when  to  hate,  upon  principle  and  with  a  good  grace. 
Wherever  there  is  a  playhouse  the  world  will  go  on  not  amiss.  The 
stage  not  only  refines  the  manners,  but  it  is  the  best  teacher  of 
morals,  for  it  is  the  truest  and  most  intelligible  picture  of  life.  It 
stamps  the  image  of  virtue  on  the  mind  by  first  softening  the  rude 
materials  of  which  it  is  composed  by  a  sense  of  pleasure.  It  regu- 
lates the  passions  by  giving  a  loose  to  the  imagination.  It  points 
out  the  selfish  and  depraved  to  our  detestation,  the  amiable  and 
generous  to  our  admiration ;  and  if  it  clothes  the  more  seductive 
vices  with  the  borrowed  graces  of  wit  and  fancy,  even  those  graces 
operate  as  a  diversion  to  the  coarser  poison  of  experience  and  bad 
example,  and  often  prevent  or  carry  off  the  infection  by  inoculating 
the  mind  with  a  certain  taste  and  elegance.  .  .  . 

If  the  stage  is  useful  as  a  school  of  instruction,  it  is  no  less  so  as 
a  source  of  amusement.  It  is  the  source  of  the  greatest  enjoyment 
at  the  time,  and  a  never-failing  fund  of  agreeable  reflection  after- 
wards. The  merits  of  a  new  play  or  of  a  new  actor  are  always 
among  the  first  topics  of  polite  conversation.  One  way  in  which 
public  exhibitions  contribute  to  refine  and  humanise  mankind  is  by 
supplying  them  with  ideas  and  subjects  of  conversation  and  interest 
hi  common.  The  progress  of  civilisation  is  in  proportion  to  the 


ACTORS  AND  ACTING.  65 

number  of  commonplaces  current  in  society.  For  instance,  if  we 
meet  with  a  stranger  at  an  inn  or  in  a  stage-coach,  who  knows 
nothing  but  his  own  affairs,  his  shop,  his  customers,  his  farm,  his 
pigs,  his  poultry,  we  can  carry  on  no  conversation  with  him  on  these 
local  and  personal  matters,  the  only  way  is  to  let  him  have  all  the 
talk  to  himself.  But  if  he  has  fortunately  ever  seen  Mr.  Listen  act, 
this  is  an  immediate  topic  of  mutual  conversation,  and  we  agree 
together  the  rest  of  the  evening  in  discussing  the  merits  of  that 
inimitable  actor,  with  the  same  satisfaction  as  in  talking  over  the 
affairs  of  the  most  intimate  friend. 

If  the  stage  thus  introduces  us  familiarly  to  our  contemporaries, 
it  also  brings  us  acquainted  with  former  times.  It  is  an  interesting 
revival  of  past  ages,  manners,  opinions,  dresses,  persons,  and  actions 
— whether  it  carries  us  back  to  the  wars  of  York  and  Lancaster,  or 
half-way  back  to  the  heroic  times  of  Greece  and  Rome,  in  some  trans- 
lation from  the  French,  or  quite  back  to  the  age  of  Charles  II.  in 
the  scenes  of  Congreve  and  of  Etherege  (the  gay  Sir  George !) — 
happy  age,  when  kings  and  nobles  led  purely  ornamental  lives; 
when  the  utmost  stretch  of  a  morning's  study  went  no  further  than 
the  choice  of  a  sword-knot  or  the  adjustment  of  a  side-curl ;  when 
the  soul  spoke  out  in  all  the  pleasing  eloquence  of  dress ;  and  beaux 
and  belles,  enamoured  of  themselves  in  one  another's  follies,  flut- 
tered like  gilded  butterflies  in  giddy  mazes  through  the  walks  of 
St.  James's  Park ! 

A  good  company  of  comedians,  a  theatre-royal  judiciously 
managed,  is  your  true  Heralds'  College — the  only  Antiquarian 
Society  that  is  worth  a  rush.  It  is  for  this  reason  that  there  is 
such  an  air  of  romance  about  players,  and  that  it  is  pleasanter  to 
see  them,  even  in  their  own  persons,  than  any  of  the  three  learned 
professions.  We  feel  more  respect  for  John  Kemble  in  a  plain  coat 
than  for  the  Lord  Chancellor  on  the  woolsack.  He  is  surrounded, 
to  our  eyes,  with  a  greater  number  of  imposing  recollections ;  he  is 
a  more  reverend  piece  of  formality — a  more  complicated  tissue  of 
costume.  We  do  not  know  whether  to  look  upon  this  accomplished 
actor  as  Pierre,  or  King  John,  or  Coriolanus,  or  Cato,  or  Leontes, 
or  the  Stranger.  But  we  see  in  him  a  stately  hieroglyphic  of 
humanity,  a  living  monument  of  departed  greatness,  a  sombre  com- 
ment on  the  rise  and  fall  of  kings.  We  look  after  him  till  he  is  out 
of  sight  as  we  listen  to  a  story  of  one  of  Ossian's  heroes,  to  "  a  tale 
of  other  times !".... 

The  most  pleasant  feature  in  the  profession  of  a  player,  and  which 
indeed  is  peculiar  to  it,  is,  that  we  not  only  admire  the  talents  of 
those  who  adorn  it,  but  we  contract  a  personal  intimacy  with  them. 


66          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

There  is  no  class  of  society  whom  so  many  persons  regard  with  affection 
as  actors.  We  greet  them  on  the  stage ;  we  like  to  meet  them  in  the 
streets ;  they  almost  always  recall  to  us  pleasant  associations ;  and  we 
feel  our  gratitude  excited  without  the  uneasiness  of  a  sense  of  obliga- 
tion. The  very  gaiety  and  popularity,  however,  which  surround  the 
life  of  a  favourite  performer  make  the  retiring  from  it  a  very  serious 
business.  It  glances  a  mortifying  reflection  on  the  shortness  of  human 
life  and  the  vanity  of  human  pleasures.  Something  reminds  us  that 
"  all  the  world's  a  stage,  and  all  the  men  and  women  merely  players." 


[Characters  ofShakspeare's  Plays,  1817.     Five  Editions  of  this  work  Jiave 
appeared  in  England,  and  more  than  one  in  the  United  States.] 

MACBETH. 

"  The  poet's  eye  in  a  fine  frenzy  rolling 
Doth  glance  from  heaven  to  earth,  from  earth  to  heaven ; 
And  as  imagination  bodies  forth 
The  forms  of  things  unknown,  the  poet's  pen 
Turns  them  to  shape,  and  gives  to  airy  nothing 
A  local  habitation  and  a  name." 

[Midsummer  Night's  Dream,  v.  i.] 

"MACBETH"  and  "Lear,"  "Othello"  and  "Hamlet,"  are  usually 
reckoned  Shakspeare's  four  principal  tragedies.  "  Lear  "  stands  first 
for  the  profound  intensity  of  the  passion ;  "  Macbeth  "  for  the  wildness 
of  the  imagination  and  the  rapidity  of  the  action ;  "  Othello  "  for  the 
progressive  interest  and  powerful  alternations  of  feeling ;  "  Hamlet " 
for  the  refined  development  of  thought  and  sentiment.  If  the  force 
of  genius  shown  in  each  of  these  works  is  astonishing,  their  variety  is 
not  less  so.  They  are  like  different  creations  of  the  same  mind,  not 
one  of  which  has  the  slightest  reference  to  the  rest.  This  distinct- 
ness and  originality  is  indeed  the  necessary  consequence  of  truth 
and  nature.  Shakspeare's  genius  alone  appeared  to  possess  the 
resources  of  nature.  He  is  "  your  only  tragedy-maker."  His  plays 
have  the  force  of  things  upon  the  mind.  What  he  represents  is 
brought  home  to  the  bosom  as  a  part  of  our  experience,  implanted 
in  the  memory  as  if  we  had  known  the  places,  persons,  and  things  of 
which  he  treats.  "  Macbeth  "  is  like  a  record  of  a  preternatural  and 
tragical  event.  It  has  the  rugged  severity  of  an  old  chronicle  with 
all  that  the  imagination  of  the  poet  can  engraft  upon  traditional 
belief.  The  castle  of  Macbeth,  round  which  "  the  air  smells  wooingly," 
and  where  "  the  temple-haunting  martlet  builds,"  has  a  real  subsist- 
ence in  the  mind;  the  Weird  Sisters  meet  us  in  person  on  "the 
blasted  heath;"  the  "air-drawn  dagger"  moves  slowly  before  our 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— MACBETH.      67 

eyes;  the  "gracious  Duncan,"  the  " blood-boltered  Banquo,"  stand 
before  us:  all  that  passed  through  the  mind  of  Macbeth  passes 
without  the  loss  of  a  tittle,  through  ours.  All  that  could  actually 
take  place,  and  all  that  is  only  possible  to  be  conceived,  what  was 
said  and  what  was  done,  the  workings  of  passion,  the  spells  of  magic, 
are  brought  before  us  with  the  same  absolute  truth  and  vividness. 
Shakspeare  excelled  in  the  openings  of  his  plays :  that  of  "  Macbeth  " 
is  the  most  striking  of  any.  The  wildness  of  the  scenery,  the  sudden 
shifting  of  the  situations  and  characters,  the  bustle,  the  expectations 
excited,  are  equally  extraordinary.  From  the  first  entrance  of  the 
Witches  and  the  description  of  them  when  they  meet  Macbeth, 


What  are  these 


So  wither'd,  and  so  wild  in  their  attire, 
That  look  not  like  th'  inhabitants  o'  th'  earth 
And  yet  are  on't  ? " 

the  mind  is  prepared  for  all  that  follows. 

This  tragedy  is  alike  distinguished  for  the  lofty  imagination  it  dis- 
plays, and  for  the  tumultuous  vehemence  of  the  action ;  and  the  one  is 
made  the  moving  principle  of  the  other.  The  overwhelming  pressure 
of  preternatural  agency  urges  on  the  tide  of  human  passion  with  re- 
doubled force.  Macbeth  himself  appears  driven  along  by  the  violence 
of  his  fate  like  a  vessel  drifting  before  a  storm :  he  reels  to  and  fro  like 
a  drunken  man ;  he  staggers  under  the  weight  of  his  own  purposes 
and  the  suggestions  of  others ;  he  stands  at  bay  with  his  situation; 
and  from  the  superstitious  awe  and  breathless  suspense  into  which 
the  communications  of  the  Weird  Sisters  throw  him,  is  hurried  on 
with  daring  impatience  to  verify  their  predictions,  and  with  impious 
and  bloody  hand  to  tear  aside  the  veil  which  hides  the  uncertainty 
of  the  future.  He  is  not  equal  to  the  struggle  with  fate  and  con- 
science. He  now  "  bends  up  each  corporal  agent  to  this  terrible 
feat ; "  at  other  times  his  heart  misgives  him,  and  he  is  cowed  and 
abashed  by  his  success.  "  The  attempt,  and  not  the  deed,  confounds 
us."  His  mind  is  assailed  by  the  stings  of  remorse,  and  full  of 
"  preternatural  solicitings."  His  speeches  and  soliloquies  are  dark 
riddles  on  human  life,  baffling  solution,  and  entangling  him  in  their 
labyrinths.  In  thought  he  is  absent  and  perplexed,  sudden  and 
desperate  in  act,  from  a  distrust  of  his  own  resolution.  His  energy 
springs  from  the  anxiety  and  agitation  of  his  mind.  His  blindly 
rushing  forward  on  the  objects  of  his  ambition  and  revenge,  or  his 
recoiling  from  them,  equally  betrays  the  harassed  state  of  his  feel- 
ings. This  part  of  his  character  is  admirably  set  off  by  being 
brought  in  connection  with  that  of  Lady  Macbeth,  whose  obdurate 


68          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

strength  of  will  and  masculine  firmness  give  her  the  ascendency 
over  her  husband's  faltering  virtue.  She  at  once  seizes  on  the 
opportunity  that  offers  for  the  accomplishment  of  all  their  wished- 
for  greatness,  and  never  flinches  from  her  object  till  all  is  over. 
The  magnitude  of  her  resolution  almost  covers  the  magnitude  of 
her  guilt.  She  is  a  great  bad  woman,  whom  we  hate,  but  whom 
we  fear  more  than  we  hate.  She  does  not  excite  our  loathing  and 
abhorrence  like  Regan  and  Goneril.  She  is  only  wicked  to  gain  a 
great  end,  and  is  perhaps  more  distinguished  by  her  commanding 
presence  of  mind  and  inexorable  self-will,  which  do  not  suffer  her 
to  be  diverted  from  a  bad  purpose,  when  once  formed,  by  weak  and 
womanly  regrets,  than  by  the  hardness  of  her  heart  or  want  of 
natural  affections.  The  impression  which  her  lofty  determination 
of  character  makes  on  the  mind  of  Macbeth  is  well  described  where 
he  exclaims, 

'•  Bring  forth  men-children  only  ; 


For  thy  undaunted  mettle  should  compose 
Nothing  but  males  ! " 

Nor  do  the  pains  she  is  at  to  "  screw  his  courage  to  the  sticking- 
place,"  the  reproach  to  him,  not  to  be  "  lost  so  poorly  in  himself," 
the  assurance  that  "  a  little  water  clears  them  of  this  deed,"  show 
anything  but  her  greater  consistency  in  depravity.  Her  strong- 
nerved  ambition  furnishes  ribs  of  steel  to  the  "  sides  of  his  intent ; " 
and  she  is  herself  wound  up  to  the  execution  of  her  baneful  project  __ 
with  the  same  unshrinking  fortitude  in  crime,  that  in  other  cir- 
cumstances she  would  probably  have  shown  patience  in  suffering. 
The  deliberate  sacrifice  of  all  other  considerations  to  the  gaining 
"  for  their  future  days  and  nights  sole  sovereign  sway  and  master- 
dom,"  by  the  murder  of  Duncan,  is  gorgeously  expressed  in  her 
invocation  on  hearing  of  "his  fatal  entrance  under  her  battle- 
ments : " — 


-"  Come,  you  spirits 


That  tend  on  mortal  thoughts,  unsex  me  here  : 

And  fill  me,  from  the  crown  to  the  toe,  top-full 

Of  direst  cruelty  !  make  thick  my  blood, 

Stop  up  th'  access  and  passage  to  remorse, 

That  no  compunctious  visitings  of  nature 

Shake  my  fell  purpose,  nor  keep  peace  between 

Th'  effect  and  it.     Come  to  my  woman's  breasts, 

And  take  my  milk  for  gall,  you  murdering  ministers. 

Wherever  in  your  sightless  substances 

You  wait  on  nature's  mischief  !     Come,  thick  night ! 

And  pall  thee  in  the  dunnest  smoke  of  hell, 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— MACBETH.      69 

That  my  keen  knife  see  not  the  wound  it  makes, 
Nor  heav'n  peep  through  the  blanket  of  the  dark, 
To  cry,  Hold,  hold  !— " 

When  she  first  hears  that  "  the  king  [Duncan]  comes  here  tonight," 
she  is  so  overcome  by  the  news,  which  is  beyond  her  utmost  expec- 
tations, that  she  answers  the  messenger,  "  Thou'rt  mad  to  say  it : " 
and  on  receiving  her  husband's  account  of  the  predictions  of  the 
Witches,  conscious  of  his  instability  of  purpose,  and  that  her  pre- 
sence is  necessary  to  goad  him  on  to  the  consummation  of  his 
promised  greatness,  she  exclaims — 

"  Hie  thee  hither, 

That  I  may  pour  my  spirits  in  thine  ear, 
And  chastise  with  the  valour  of  my  tongue 
All  that  impedes  thee  from  the  golden  round, 
Which  fate  and  metaphysical  aid  doth  seem 
To  have  thee  crown'd  withal." 

This  swelling  exultation  and  keen  spirit  of  triumph,  this  uncontrol- 
lable eagerness  of  anticipation,  which  seems  to  dilate  her  form  and 
take  possession  of  all  her  faculties,  this  solid,  substantial  flesh-and- 
blood  display  of  passion,  exhibit  a  striking  contrast  to  the  cold, 
abstracted,  gratuitous,  servile  malignity  of  the  Witches,  who  are 
equally  instrumental  in  urging  Macbeth  to  his  fate  for  the  mere 
love  of  mischief,  and  from  a  disinterested  delight  in  deformity  and 
cruelty.  They  are  hags  of  mischief,  obscene  panders  to  iniquity, 
malicious  from  their  impotence  of  enjoyment,  enamoured  of  destruc- 
tion, because  they  are  themselves  unreal,  abortive,  half-existences : 
who  become  sublime  from  their  exemption  from  all  human  sym- 
pathies and  contempt  for  all  human  affairs,  as  Lady  Macbeth  does 
by  the  force  of  passion !  Her  fault  seems  to  have  been  an  excess 
of  that  strong  principle  of  self-interest  and  family  aggrandisement, 
not  amenable  to  the  common  feelings  of  compassion  and  justice, 
which  is  so  marked  a  feature  in  barbarous  nations  and  times.  A 
passing  reflection  of  this  kind,  on  the  resemblance  of  the  sleeping 
long  to  her  father,  alone  prevents  her  from  slaying  Duncan  with 
her  own  hand. 

In  speaking  of  the  character  of  Lady  Macbeth,  we  ought  not 
to  pass  over  Mrs.  Siddons's  manner  of  acting  that  part.  We  can 
conceive  of  nothing  grander.  It  was  something  above  nature.  It 
seemed  almost  as  if  a  being  of  a  superior  order  had  dropped  from  a 
higher  sphere  to  awe  the  world  with  the  majesty  of  her  appearance. 
Power  was  seated  on  her  brow,  passion  emanated  from  her  breast 
as  from  a  shrine ;  she  was  tragedy  personified.  In  coming  on  in  the 
sleeping-scene,  her  eyes  were  open,  but  their  sense  was  shut.  She 


70          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

was  like  a  person  bewildered  and  unconscious  of  what  she  did.  Her 
lips  moved  involuntarily:  all  her  gestures  were  involuntary  and 
mechanical.  She  glided  on  and  off  the  stage  like  an  apparition 
To  have  seen  her  in  that  character  was  an  event  in  every  one's  life, 
not  to  be  forgotten. 


OTHELLO. 

IT  has  been  said  that  tragedy  purifies  the  affections  by  terror  and 
pity.  That  is,  it  substitutes  imaginary  sympathy  for  mere  selfishness. 
It  gives  us  a  high  and  permanent  interest,  beyond  ourselves,  in 
humanity  as  such.  It  raises  the  great,  the  remote,  and  the  possible 
to  an  equality  with  the  real,  the  little,  and  the  near.  It  makes  man 
a  partaker  with  his  kind.  It  subdues  and  softens  the  stubbornness 
of  his  will.  It  teaches  him  that  there  are  and  have  been  others  like 
himself,  by  showing  him  as  in  a  glass  what  they  have  felt,  thought, 
and  done.  It  opens  the  chambers  of  the  human  heart.  It  leaves 
nothing  indifferent  to  us  that  can  affect  our  common  nature.  It 
excites  our  sensibility  by  exhibiting  the  passions  wound  up  to  the 
utmost  pitch  by  the  power  of  imagination  or  the  temptation  of 
circumstances;  and  corrects  their  fatal  excesses  in  ourselves  by 
pointing  to  the  greater  extent  of  sufferings  and  of  crimes  to  which 
they  have  led  others.  Tragedy  creates  a  balance  of  the  affections. 
It  makes  us  thoughtful  spectators  in  the  lists  of  life.  It  is  the 
refiner  of  the  species ;  a  discipline  of  humanity.  The  habitual  study 
of  poetry  and  works  of  imagination  is  one  chief  part  of  a  well- 
grounded  education.  A  taste  for  liberal  art  is  necessary  to  complete 
the  character  of  a  gentleman.  Science  alone  is  hard  and  mechanical. 
It  exercises  the  understanding  upon  things  out  of  ourselves,  while  it 
leaves  the  affections  unemployed,  or  engrossed  with  our  own  im- 
mediate, narrow  interests. — "Othello"  furnishes  an  illustration  of 
these  remarks.  It  excites  our  sympathy  in  an  extraordinary  degree. 
The  moral  it  conveys  has  a  closer  application  to  the  concerns  of  human 
life  than  that  of  almost  any  other  of  Shakspeare's  plays.  "  It  comes 
directly  home  to  the  bosoms  and  business  of  men."  The  pathos  in 
"Lear"  is  indeed  more  dreadful  and  overpowering;  but  it  is  less 
natural,  and  less  of  every  day's  occurrence.  We  have  not  the  same 
degree  of  sympathy  with  the  passions  described  in  "  Macbeth."  The 
interest  in  "  Hamlet "  is  more  remote  and  reflex.  That  of  "  Othello  " 
is  at  once  equally  profound  and  affecting. 

The  picturesque  contrasts  of  character  in  this  play  are  almost 
as  remarkable  as  the  depth  of  the  passion.  The  Moor  Othello,  the 
gentle  Desdemona,  the  villain  lago,  the  good-natured  Cassio,  the 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— OTHELLO.      71 

fool  Roderigo,  present  a  range  and  variety  of  character  as  striking 
and  palatable  as  that  produced  by  the  opposition  of  costume  in 
a  picture.  Their  distinguishing  qualities  stand  out  to  the  mind's 
eye,  so  that  even  when  we  are  not  thinking  of  their  actions  or 
sentiments,  the  idea  of  their  persons  is  still  as  present  to  us  as  ever. 
These  characters  and  the  imagoes  they  stamp  upon  the  mind  are  the 
farthest  asunder  possible,  the  distance  between  them  is  immense ; 
yet  the  compass  of  knowledge  and  invention  which  the  poet  has 
shown  in  embodying  these  extreme  creations  of  his  genius  is  only 
greater  than  the  truth  and  felicity  with  which  he  has  identified  each 
character  with  itself,  or  blended  their  different  qualities  together  in 
the  same  story.  What  a  contrast  the  character  of  Othello  forms  to  that 
of  lago !  At  the  same  time,  the  force  of  conception  with  which  these 
two  figures  are  opposed  to  each  other  is  rendered  still  more  intense 
by  the  complete  consistency  with  which  the  traits  of  each  character 
are  brought  out  in  a  state  of  the  highest  finishing.  The  making 
one  black  and  the  other  white,  the  one  unprincipled,  the  other 
unfortunate  in  the  extreme,  would  have  answered  the  common 
purposes  of  effect,  and  satisfied  the  ambition  of  an  ordinary  painter 
of  character.  Shakspeare  has  laboured  the  finer  shades  of  difference 
in  both  with  as  much  care  and  skill  as  if  he  had  had  to  depend  on 
the  execution  alone  for  the  success  of  his  design.  On  the  other  hand, 
Desdemona  and  ^Emilia  are  not  meant  to  be  opposed  with  anything 
like  strong  contrast  to  each  other.  Both  are,  to  outward  appear- 
ance, characters  of  common  life,  not  more  distinguished  than  women 
usually  are,  by  difference  of  rank  and  situation.  The  difference 
of  their  thoughts  and  sentiments  is,  however,  laid  open,  their  minds 
are  separated  from  each  other  by  signs  as  plain  and  as  little  to  be 
mistaken  as  the  complexions  of  their  husbands. 

The  movement  of  the  passion  in  Othello  is  exceedingly  different 
from  that  of  Macbeth.  In  Macbeth  there  is  a  violent  struggle 
between  opposite  feelings,  between  ambition  and  the  stings  of 
conscience,  almost  from  first  to  last :  in  Othello,  the  doubtful  con- 
flict between  contrary  passions,  though  dreadful,  continues  only 
for  a  short  time,  and  the  chief  interest  is  excited  by  the  alternate 
ascendency  of  different  passions,  by  the  entire  and  unforeseen 
change  from  the  fondest  love  and  most  unbounded  confidence 
to  the  tortures  of  jealousy  and  the  madness  of  hatred.  The 
revenge  of  Othello,  after  it  has  once  taken  thorough  possession 
of  his  mind,  never  quits  it,  but  grows  stronger  and  stronger  at 
every  moment  of  its  delay.  The  nature  of  the  Moor  is  noble, 
confiding,  tender,  and  generous ;  but  his  blood  is  of  the  most  in- 
flammable kind ;  and  being  once  roused  by  a  sense  of  his  wrongs, 


72  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

he  is  stopped  by  no  considerations  of  remorse  or  pity  till  he  has 
given  a  loose  to  all  the  dictates  of  his  rage  and  his  despair.  It 
is  in  working  his  noble  nature  up  to  this  extremity  through  rapid 
but  gradual  transitions,  in  raising  passion  to  its  height  from  the 
smallest  beginnings  and  in  spite  of  all  obstacles,  in  painting  the 
expiring  conflict  between  love  and  hatred,  tenderness  and  resent- 
ment, jealousy  and  remorse,  in  unfolding  the  strength  and  the 
weakness  of  our  nature,  in  uniting  sublimity  of  thought  with  the 
anguish  of  the  keenest  woe,  in  putting  in  motion  the  various  im- 
pulses that  agitate  this  our  mortal  being,  and  at  last  blending  them 
in  that  noble  tide  of  deep  and  sustained  passion,  impetuous  lut 
majestic,  that  "  flows  on  to  the  Propontic,  and  knows  no  ebb,"  that 
Shakspeare  has  shown  the  mastery  of  his  genius  and  of  his  power 
over  the  human  heart.  The  third  act  of  "Othello"  is  his  finest 
display,  not  of  knowledge  or  passion  separately,  but  of  the  two  com- 
bined, of  the  knowledge  of  character  with  the  expression  of  passion, 
of  consummate  art  in  the  keeping  up  of  appearances  with  the  pro- 
found workings  of  nature,  and  the  convulsive  movements  of  uncon- 
trollable agony,  of  the  power  of  inflicting  torture  and  of  suffering  it. 
Not  only  is  the  tumult  of  passion  in  Othello's  mind  heaved  up  from 
the  very  bottom  of  the  soul,  but  every  the  slightest  undulation  of 
feeling  is  seen  on  the  surface,  as  it  arises  from  the  impulses  of  imagi- 
nation or  the  malicious  suggestions  of  lago.  The  progressive  pre- 
paration for  the  catastrophe  is  wonderfully  managed  from  the  Moor's 
first  gallant  recital  of  the  story  of  his  love,  of  "  the  spells  and  witch- 
craft he  had  used,"  from  his  unlooked-for  and  romantic  success,  the 
fond  satisfaction  with  which  he  dotes  on  his  own  happiness,  the 
unreserved  tenderness  of  Desdemona  and  her  innocent  impor- 
tunities in  favour  of  Cassio,  irritating  the  suspicions  instilled  into 
her  husband's  mind  by  the  perfidy  of  lago,  and  rankling  there  to 
poison,  till  he  loses  all  command  of  himself,  and  his  rage  can  only 
be  appeased  by  blood. 

HAMLET. 

THIS  is  that  Hamlet  the  Dane  whom  we  read  of  in  our  youth,  and 
whom  we  may  be  said  almost  to  remember  in  our  after-years ;  he 
who  made  that  famous  soliloquy  on  life,  who  gave  the  advice  to 
the  players,  who  thought  "  this  goodly  frame,  the  earth,"  a  sterile 
promontory,  and  "this  brave  o'erhanging  firmament,  the  air,  this 
majestical  roof  fretted  with  golden  fire,"  "  a  foul  and  pestilent  con- 
gregation of  vapours;"  whom  "man  delighted  not,  nor  woman 
neither ; "  he  who  talked  with  the  gravediggers,  and  moralised  on 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— HAMLET.  73 

Yorick's  skull;  the  schoolfellow  of  Rosencrantz  and  Guildenstern 
at  Wittenberg;  the  friend  of  Horatio;  the  lover  of  Ophelia;  he 
that  was  mad  and  sent  to  England ;  the  slow  avenger  of  his  father's 
death ;  who  lived  at  the  court  of  Horwendillus  five  hundred  years 
before  we  were  born,  but  all  whose  thoughts  we  seem  to  know  as 
well  as  we  do  our  own,  because  we  have  read  them  in  Shakspeare. 

Hamlet  is  a  name ;  his  speeches  and  sayings  but  the  idle  coinage 
of  the  poet's  brain.  What  then,  are  they  not  real  ?  They  are  as 
real  as  our  own  thoughts.  Their  reality  is  in  the  reader's  mind 
It  is  we  who  are  Hamlet.  This  play  has  a  prophetic  truth,  which 
is  above  that  of  history.  Whoever  has  become  thoughtful  and 
melancholy  through  his  own  mishaps  or  those  of  others ;  whoever 
has  borne  about  with  him  the  clouded  brow  of  reflection,  and 
thought  himself  "too  much  i'  th'  sun;"  whoever  has  seen  the 
golden  lamp  of  day  dimmed  by  envious  mists  rising  in  his  own 
breast,  and  could  find  in  the  world  before  him  only  a  dull  blank 
with  nothing  left  remarkable  in  it;  whoever  has  known  "the 
pangs  of  despised  love,  the  insolence  of  office,  or  the  spurns  which 
patient  merit  of  the  unworthy  takes ; "  he  who  has  felt  his  mind 
sink  within  him,  and  sadness  cling  to  his  heart  like  a  malady,  who 
has  had  his  hopes  blighted  and  his  youth  staggered  by  the  appari- 
tions of  strange  things ;  who  cannot  be  well  at  ease,  while  he  sees 
evil  hovering  near  him  like  a  spectre ;  whose  powers  of  action  have 
been  eaten  up  by  thought,  he  to  whom  the  universe  seems  infinite, 
and  himself  nothing ;  whose  bitterness  of  soul  makes  him  careless 
of  consequences,  and  who  goes  to  a  play  as  his  best  resource  to 
shove  off,  to  a  second  remove,  the  evils  of  life  by  a  mock  represen- 
tation of  them — this  is  the  true  Hamlet. 

We  have  been  so  used  to  this  tragedy  that  we  hardly  know  how 
to  criticise  it  any  more  than  we  should  know  how  to  describe  our 
own  faces.  But  we  must  make  such  observations  as  we  can.  It 
is  the  one  of  Shakspeare's  plays  that  we  think  of  the  oftenest, 
because  it  abounds  most  in  striking  reflections  on  human  life,  and 
because  the  distresses  of  Hamlet  are  transferred,  by  the  turn  of  his 
mind,  to  the  general  account  of  humanity.  Whatever  happens  to 
him  we  apply  to  ourselves,  because  he  applies  it  so  himself  as  a 
means  of  general  reasoning.  He  is  a  great  moraliser;  and  what 
makes  him  worth  attending  to  is,  that  he  moralises  on  his  own 
feelings  and  experience.  He  is  not  a  commonplace  pedant.  If 
"  Lear  "  is  distinguished  by  the  greatest  depth  of  passion, "  Hamlet " 
is  the  most  remarkable  for  the  ingenuity,  originality,  and  unstudied 
development  of  character.  Shakspeare  had  more  magnanimity  than 
any  other  poet,  and  he  has  shown  more  of  it  in  this  play  than  in 


74          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

any  other.  There  is  no  attempt  to  force  an  interest:  everything 
is  left  for  time  and  circumstances  to  unfold.  The  attention  is 
excited  without  effort,  the  incidents  succeed  each  other  as  matters 
of  course,  the  characters  think  and  speak  and  act  just  as  they 
might  do  if  left  entirely  to  themselves.  There  is  no  set  purpose, 
no  straining  at  a  point.  The  observations  are  suggested  by  the 
passing  scene — the  gusts  of  passion  come  and  go  like  sounds  of 
music  borne  on  the  wind.  The  whole  play  is  an  exact  transcript 
of  what  might  be  supposed  to  have  taken  place  at  the  court  of 
Denmark,  at  the  remote  period  of  time  fixed  upon,  before  the 
modern  refinements  in  morals  and  manners  we^e  heard  of.  It 
would  have  been  interesting  enough  to  have  been  admitted  as  a 
bystander  in  such  a  scene,  at  such  a  time,  to  have  heard  and  wit- 
nessed something  of  what  was  going  on.  But  here  we  are  more 
than  spectators.  We  have  not  only  "the  outward  pageants  and 
the  signs  of  grief ; "  but  "  we  have  that  within  which  passes  show." 
We  read  the  thoughts  of  the  heart,  we  catch  the  passions  living 
as  they  rise.  Other  dramatic  writers  give  us  very  fine  versions 
and  paraphrases  of  nature ;  but  Shakspeare,  together  with  his  own 
comments,  gives  us  the  original  text,  that  we  may  judge  for  our- 
selves. This  is  a  very  great  advantage. 

The  character  of  Hamlet  stands  quite  by  itself.  It  is  not  a  char- 
acter marked  by  strength  of  will  or  even  of  passion,  but  by  refine- 
ment of  thought  and  sentiment.  Hamlet  is  as  little  of  the  hero 
as  a  man  can  well  be ;  but  he  is  a  young  and  princely  novice,  full 
of  high  enthusiasm  and  quick  sensibility — the  sport  of  circum- 
stances, questioning  with  fortune  and  refining  on  his  own  feelings, 
and  forced  from  the  natural  bias  of  his  disposition  by  the  strange- 
ness of  his  situation.  He  seems  incapable  of  deliberate  action,  and 
is  only  hurried  into  extremities  on  the  spur  of  the  occasion,  when 
he  has  no  time  to  reflect,  as  in  the  scene  where  he  kills  Polonius, 
and  again,  where  he  alters  the  letters  which  Rosencrantz  and 
Guildenstern  are  taking  with  them  to  England,  purporting  his 
death.  At  other  times,  when  he  is  most  bound  to  act,  he  remains 
puzzled,  undecided,  and  sceptical,  dallies  with  his  purposes,  till  the 
occasion  is  lost,  and  finds  out  some  pretence  to  relapse  into  indo- 
lence and  thoughtfulness  again.  For  this  reason  he  refuses  to  kill 
the  Bang  when  he  is  at  his  prayers,  and  by  a  refinement  in  malice, 
which  is  in  truth  only  an  excuse  for  his  own  want  of  resolution, 
defers  his  revenge  to  a  more  fatal  opportunity,  when  he  shall  be 
engaged  in  some  act  "  that  has  no  relish  of  salvation  in  it." 

He  is  the  prince  of  philosophical  speculators ;  and  because  he 
cannot  have  his  revenge  perfect,  according  to  the  most  refined  idea 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— HAMLET.       75 

his  wish  can  form,  he  declines  it  altogether.  So  he  scruples  to  trusts 
the  suggestions  of  the  Ghost,  contrives  the  scene  of  the  play  to  have 
surer  proof  of  his  uncle's  guilt,  and  then  rests  satisfied  with  this 
confirmation  of  his  suspicions,  and  the  success  of  his  experiment, 
instead  of  acting  upon  it.  Yet  he  is  sensible  of  his  own  weakness, 
taxes  himself  with  it,  and  tries  to  reason  himself  out  of  it.  Still 
he  does  nothing;  ar.d  this  very  speculation  on  his  own  infirmity 
only  affords  him  another  occasion  for  indulging  it.  It  is  not  from 
any  want  of  attachment  to  his  father  or  of  abhorrence  of  his 
murder  that  Hamlet  is  thus  dilatory ;  but  it  is  more  to  his  taste 
to  indulge  his  imagination  in  reflecting  upon  the  enormity  of  the 
crime  and  refining  on  his  schemes  of  vengeance,  than  to  put  them 
into  immediate  practice.  His  ruling  passion  is  to  think,  not  to 
act ;  and  any  vague  pretext  that  flatters  this  propensity  instantly 
diverts  him  from  his  previous  purposes. 

The  moral  perfection  of  this  character  has  been  called  in  question, 
we  think,  by  those  who  did  not  understand  it.  It  is  more  interest- 
ing than  according  to  rules;  amiable,  though  not  faultless.  The 
ethical  delineations  of  "that  noble  and  liberal  casuist"  (as  Shak- 
speare  has  been  well  called)  do  not  exhibit  the  drab-coloured  quakerism 
of  morali ty.  His  plays  are  not  copied  either  from  the  "  Whole  Duty 
of  Man  "  or  from  "  The  Academy  of  Compliments ! "  We  confess  we 
are  a  little  shocked  at  the  want  of  refinement  in  those  who  are 
shocked  at  the  want  of  refinement  in  Hamlet.  The  neglect  of 
punctilious  exactness  in  his  behaviour  either  partakes  of  the  "  licence 
of  the  time,"  or  else  belongs  to  the  very  excess  of  intellectual  refine- 
ment in  the  character,  which  makes  the  common  rules  of  life,  as 
well  as  his  own  purposes,  sit  loose  upon  him.  He  may  be  said  to 
be  amenable  only  to  the  tribunal  of  his  own  thoughts,  and  is  too 
much  taken  up  with  the  airy  world  of  contemplation  to  lay  as  much 
stress  as  he  ought  on  the  practical  consequences  of  things.  His 
habitual  principles  of  action  are  unhinged  and  out  of  joint  with 
the  time.  His  conduct  to  Ophelia  is  quite  natural  in  his  circum- 
stances. It  is  that  of  assumed  severity  only.  It  is  the  effect  of 
disappointed  hope,  of  bitter  regrets,  of  affection  suspended,  not 
obliterated,  by  the  distractions  of  the  scene  around  him !  Amidst 
the  natural  and  preternatural  horrors  of  his  situation,  he  might 
be  excused  in  delicacy  from  carrying  on  a  regular  courtship.  When 
"  his  father's  spirit  was  in  arms,"  it  was  not  a  time  for  the  son  to 
make  love  in.  He  could  neither  marry  Ophelia,  nor  wound  her 
mind  by  explaining  the  cause  of  his  alienation,  which  he  durst 
hardly  trust  himself  to  think  of.  It  would  have  taken  him  years 
to  have  come  to  a  direct  explanation  on  the  point.  In  the  harassed 


76          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

state  of  his  mind,  he  could  not  have  done  much  otherwise  than  he 
did.  His  conduct  does  not  contradict  what  he  says  when  he  sees 
her  funeral  : 

"I  loved  Ophelia  :  forty  thousand  brothers 
Could  not  with  all  their  quantity  of  love 
Make  up  my  sum." 

Nothing  can  be  more  affecting  or  beautiful  than  ohe  Queen's 
apostrophe  to  Ophelia  on  throwing  the  flowers  into  the  grave : 

"  Sweets  to  the  sweet,  farewell.  [Scattering  flowers. 

I  hop'd  thou  should'st  have  been  my  Hamlet's  wife  ; 
I  thought  thy  bride-bed  to  have  deck'd,  sweet  maid, 
And  not  have  strew'd  thy  grave." 

Shakspeare  was  thoroughly  a  master  of  the  mixed  motives  of 
human  character,  and  he  here  shows  us  the  Queen,  who  was  so 
criminal  in  some  respects,  not  without  sensibility  and  affection  in 
other  relations  of  life. — Ophelia  is  a  character  almost  too  exquisitely 
touching  to  be  dwelt  upon.  Oh  rose  of  May,  oh  flower  too  soon 
faded !  Her  love,  her  madness,  her  death,  are  described  with  the 
truest  touches  of  tenderness  and  pathos.  It  is  a  character  which 
nobody  but  Shakspeare  could  have  drawn  in  the  way  that  he  has 
done,  and  to  the  conception  of  which  there  is  not  even  the  smallest 
approach,  except  in  some  of  the  old  romantic  ballads. 

ROMEO  AND  JULIET. 

"  ROMEO  AND  JULIET  "  is  the  only  tragedy  which  Shakspeare  has 
written  entirely  on  a  love-story.  It  is  supposed  to  have  been  his 
first  play,  and  it  deserves  to  stand  in  that  proud  rank.  There  is  the 
buoyant  spirit  of  youth  in  every  line,  in  the  rapturous  intoxication 
of  hope,  and  in  the  bitterness  of  despair.  It  has  been  said  of 
"Romeo  and  Juliet"  by  a  great  critic,  that  "whatever  is  most 
intoxicating  in  the  odour  of  a  southern  spring,  languishing  in  the 
song  of  the  nightingale,  or  voluptuous  in  the  first  opening  of  the 
rose,  is  to  be  found  in  this  poem."  The  description  is  true ;  and  yet 
it  does  not  answer  to  our  idea  of  the  play.  For  if  it  has  the  sweet- 
ness of  the  rose,  it  has  its  freshness  too ;  if  it  has  the  languor  of  the 
nightingale's  song,  it  has  also  its  giddy  transport ;  if  it  has  the  soft- 
ness of  a  southern  spring,  it  is  as  glowing  and  as  bright.  There  is 
nothing  of  a  sickly  and  sentimental  cast.  Romeo  and  Juliet  are  in 
love,  but  they  are  not  love-sick.  Everything  speaks  the  very  soul 
of  pleasure,  the  high  arid  healthy  pulse  of  the  passions :  the  heart 
beats,  the  blood  circulates  and  mantles  throughout.  Their  courtship 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— ROMEO  AND  JULIET.    77 

is  not  an  insipid  interchange  of  sentiments  lip-deep,  learnt  at  second- 
hand from  poems  and  plays, — made  up  of  beauties  of  the  most 
shadowy  kind,  of  "fancies  wan  that  hang  the  pensive  head,"  of 
evanescent  smiles,  and  sighs  that  breathe  not,  of  delicacy  that 
shrinks  from  the  touch,  and  feebleness  that  scarce  supports  itself, 
an  elaborate  vacuity  of  thought,  and  an  artificial  dearth  of  sense, 
spirit,  truth,  and  nature  !  It  is  the  reverse  of  all  this.  It  is  Shak- 
speare  all  over,  and  Shakspeare  when  he  was  young. 

We  have  heard  it  objected  to  "Romeo  and  Juliet,"  that  it  is 
founded  on  an  idle  passion  between  a  boy  and  a  girl,  who  have 
scarcely  seen  and  can  have  but  little  sympathy  or  rational  esteem 
for  one  another,  who  have  had  no  experience  of  the  good  or  ills  of 
life,  and  whose  raptures  or  despair  must  be  therefore  equally  ground- 
less and  fantastical.  Whoever  objects  to  the  youth  of  the  parties 
in  this  play  as  "  too  unripe  and  crude  "  to  pluck  the  sweets  of  love, 
and  wishes  to  see  a  first-love  carried  on  into  a  good  old  age,  and  the 
passions  taken  at  the  rebound,  when  their  force  is  spent,  may  find 
all  this  done  in  "  The  Stranger  "  and  in  other  German  plays,  where 
they  do  things  by  contraries,  and  transpose  nature  to  inspire  sen- 
timent and  create  philosophy.  Shakspeare  proceeded  in  a  more 
straightforward  and,  we  think,  effectual  way.  He  did  not  endea- 
vour to  extract  beauty  from  wrinkles,  or  the  wild  throb  of  passion 
from  the  last  expiring  sigh  of  indifference.  He  did  not  "  gather 
grapes  of  thorns  nor  figs  of  thistles."  It  was  not  his  way.  But  he 
has  given  a  picture  of  human  life,  such  as  it  is  in  the  order  of  nature. 
He  has  founded  the  passion  of  the  two  lovers  not  on  the  pleasures 
they  had  experienced,  but  on  all  the  pleasures  they  had  not  experi- 
enced. All  that  was  to  come  of  life  was  theirs.  At  that  untried 
source  of  promised  happiness  they  slaked  their  thirst,  and  the  first 
eager  draught  made  them  drunk  with  love  and  joy.  They  were  in 
full  possession  of  their  senses  and  their  affections.  Their  hopes  were 
of  air,  their  desires  of  fire.  Youth  is  the  season  of  love,  because  the 
heart  is  then  first  melted  in  tenderness  from  the  touch  of  novelty, 
and  kindled  to  rapture,  for  it  knows  no  end  of  its  enjoyments  or 
its  wishes.  Desire  has  no  limit  but  itself.  Passion,  the  love  and 
expectation  of  pleasure,  is  infinite,  extravagant,  inexhaustible,  till 
experience  comes  to  check  and  kill  it.  Juliet  exclaims  on  her  first 
interview  with  Romeo : 

"  My  bounty  is  as  boundless  as  the  sea, 
My  love  as  deep." 

And  why  should  it  not  ?  What  was  to  hinder  the  thrilling  tide  of 
pleasure,  which  had  just  gushed  from  her  heart,  from  flowing  on 


78          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

without  stint  or  measure  but  experience,  which  she  was  yet  with- 
out ?  What  was  to  abate  the  transport  of  the  first  sweet  sense  of 
pleasure,  which  her  heart  and  her  senses  had  just  tasted,  but  in- 
difference which  she  was  yet  a  stranger  to?  What  was  there  to 
check  the  ardour  of  hope,  of  faith,  of  constancy,  just  rising  in  her 
breast,  but  disappointment  which  she  had  not  yet  felt?  As  are 
the  desires  and  the  hopes  of  youthful  passion,  such  is  the  keenness 
of  its  disappointments,  and  their  baleful  effect.  Such  is  the  transi- 
tion in  this  play  from  the  highest  bliss  to  the  lowest  despair,  from 
the  nuptial  couch  to  an  untimely  grave.  The  only  evil  that  even 
in  apprehension  befalls  the  two  lovers  is  the  loss  of  the  greatest 
possible  felicity ;  yet  this  loss  is  fatal  to  both,  for  they  had  rather 
part  with  life  than  bear  the  thought  of  surviving  all  that  had  made 
life  dear  to  them.  In  all  this,  Shakspeare  has  but  followed  nature, 
which  existed  in  his  time,  as  well  as  now.  The  modern  philosophy, 
which  reduces  the  whole  theory  of  the  mind  to  habitual  impressions, 
and  leaves  the  natural  impulses  of  passion  and  imagination  out  of 
the  account,  had  not  then  been  discovered ;  or  if  it  had,  would  have 
been  little  calculated  for  the  uses  of  poetry. 

LEAR. 

WE  wish  that  we  could  pass  this  play  over,  and  say  nothing  about 
it.  All  that  we  can  say  must  fall  far  short  of  the  subject ;  or  even 
of  what  we  ourselves  conceive  of  it.  To  attempt  to  give  a  descrip- 
tion of  the  play  itself  or  of  its  effect  upon  the  mind,  is  mere  im- 
pertinence :  yet  we  must  say  something.  It  is,  then,  the  best  of  all 
Shakspeare's  plays,  for  it  is  the  one  in  which  he  was  the  most  in 
earnest.  He  was  here  fairly  caught  in  the  web  of  his  own  imagina- 
tion. The  passion  which  he  has  taken  as  his  subject  is  that  which 
strikes  its  root  deepest  into  the  human  heart ;  of  which  the  bond  is 
the  hardest  to  be  unloosed ;  and  the  cancelling  and  tearing  to  pieces 
of  which  gives  the  greatest  revulsion  to  the  frame.  This  depth  of 
nature,  this  force  of  passion,  this  tug  and  war  of  the  elements  of 
our  being,  this  firm  faith  in  filial  piety,  and  the  giddy  anarchy  and 
whirling  tumult  of  the  thoughts  at  finding  this  prop  failing  it,  the 
contrast  between  the  fixed,  immovable  basis  of  natural  affection 
and  the  rapid,  irregular  starts  of  imagination,  suddenly  wrenched 
from  all  its  accustomed  holds  and  resting-places  in  the  soul,  this  is 
what  Shakspeare  has  given,  and  what  nobody  else  but  he  could  give. 
So  we  believe.  The  mind  of  Lear,  staggering  between  the  weight  of 
attachment  and  the  hurried  movements  of  passion,  is  like  a  tall 
ship  driven  about  by  the  winds,  buffeted  by  the  furious  waves,  but 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— LEAR.       79 

that  still  rides  above  the  storm,  having  its  anchor  fixed  in  the  bottom 
of  the  sea ;  or  it  is  like  the  sharp  rock  circled  by  the  eddying  whirl- 
pool that  foams  and  beats  against  it,  or  like  the  solid  promontory 
pushed  from  its  basis  by  the  force  of  an  earthquake. 

The  character  of  Lear  itself  is  very  finely  conceived  for  the  pur- 
pose. It  is  the  only  ground  on  which  such  a  story  could  be  built 
with  the  greatest  truth  and  effect.  It  is  his  rash  haste,  his  violent 
impetuosity,  his  blindness  to  everything  but  the  dictates  of  his 
passions  or  affections,  that  produces  all  his  misfortunes,  that  aggra- 
vates his  impatience  of  them,  that  enforces  our  pity  for  him.  The 
part  which  Cordelia  bears  in  the  scene  is  extremely  beautiful :  the 
story  is  almost  told  in  the  first  words  she  utters.  We  see  at  once 
the  precipice  on  which  the  poor  old  king  stands  from  his  own 
extravagant  and  credulous  importunity,  the  indiscreet  simplicity 
of  her  love  (which,  to  be  sure,  has  a  little  of  her  father's  obstinacy 
in  it),  and  the  hollowness  of  her  sisters'  pretensions.  Almost  the 
first  burst  of  that  noble  tide  of  passion  which  runs  through  the 
play  is  in  the  remonstrance  of  Kent  to  his  royal  master  on  the 
injustice  of  his  sentence  against  his  youngest  daughter :  "  Be  Kent 
unmannerly,  when  Lear  is  mad ! "  This  manly  plainness,  which 
draws  down  on  him  the  displeasure  of  the  unadvised  king,  is  worthy 
of  the  fidelity  with  which  he  adheres  to  his  fallen  fortunes.  The 
true  character  of  the  two  eldest  daughters,  Regan  and  Goneril  (they 
are  so  thoroughly  hateful  that  we  do  not  even  like  to  repeat  their 
names),  breaks  out  in  their  answer  to  Cordelia,  who  desires  them 
to  treat  their  father  well :  "  Prescribe  not  us  our  duties  " — their  hatred 
of  advice  being  in  proportion  to  their  determination  to  do  wrong,  and 
to  their  hypocritical  pretensions  to  do  right.  Their  deliberate  hypoc- 
risy adds  the  last  finishing  to  the  odiousness  of  their  characters. 

It  has  been  said,  and  we  think  justly,  that  the  third  act  of 
"  Othello  "  and  the  three  first  acts  of  "  Lear  "  are  Shakspeare's  great 
masterpieces  in  the  logic  of  passion  :  that  they  contain  the  highest 
examples  not  only  of  the  force  of  individual  passion,  but  of  its 
dramatic  vicissitudes  and  striking  effects  arising  from  the  different 
circumstances  and  characters  of  the  persons  speaking.  We  see  the 
ebb  and  flow  of  the  feeling,  its  pauses  and  feverish  starts,  its  im- 
patience of  opposition,  its  accumulating  force  when  it  has  time  to 
recollect  itself,  the  manner  in  which  it  avails  itself  of  every  pass- 
ing word  or  gesture,  its  haste  to  repel  insinuation,  the  alternate  con- 
traction and  dilatation  of  the  soul,  and  all  "  the  dazzling  fence  of 
controversy "  in  this  mortal  combat  with  poisoned  weapons,  aimed 
at  the  heart,  where  each  wound  is  fatal.  We  have  seen  in  "Othello  " 
how  the  unsuspecting  frankness  and  impetuous  passions  of  the  Moor 


8o          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

are  played  upon  and  exasperated  by  the  artful  dexterity  of  lago. 
In  the  present  play,  that  which  aggravates  the  sense  of  sympathy  in 
the  reader,  and  of  uncontrollable  anguish  in  the  swollen  heart  of  Lear, 
is  the  petrifying  indifference,  the  cold,  calculating,  obdurate  selfishness 
of  his  daughters.  His  keen  passions  seem  whetted  on  their  stony 
hearts.  The  contrast  would  be  too  painful,  the  shock  too  great,  but 
for  the  intervention  of  the  Fool,  whose  well-timed  levity  comes  in 
to  break  the  continuity  of  feeling  when  it  can  no  longer  be  borne, 
and  to  bring  into  play  again  the  fibres  of  the  heart  just  as  they  are 
growing  rigid  from  overstrained  excitement.  The  imagination  is 
glad  to  take  refuge  in  the  half-comic,  half -serious  comments  of  the 
Fool,  just  as  the  mind  under  the  extreme  anguish  of  a  surgical 
operation  vents  itself  in  sallies  of  wit.  The  character  was  also  a 
grotesque  ornament  of  the  barbarous  times,  in  which  alone  the 
tragic  groundwork  of  the  story  could  be  laid.  In  another  point  of 
view  it  is  indispensable,  inasmuch  as,  while  it  is  a  diversion  to  the 
too  great  intensity  of  our  disgust,  it  carries  the  pathos  to  the 
highest  pitch  of  which  it  is  capable,  by  showing  the  pitiable  weak- 
ness of  the  old  king's  conduct  and  its  irretrievable  consequences  in 
the  most  familiar  point  of  view.  Lear  may  well  "  beat  at  the  gate 
which  let  his  folly  in,"  after,  as  the  Fool  says,  "  he  has  made  his 
daughters  his  mothers."  The  character  is  dropped  in  the  third  act 
to  make  room  for  the  entrance  of  Edgar  as  Mad  Tom,  which  well 
accords  with  the  increasing  bustle  and  wildness  of  the  incidents ; 
and  nothing  can  be  more  complete  than  the  distinction  between 
Lear's  real  and  Edgar's  assumed  madness,  while  the  resemblance  in 
the  cause  of  their  distresses,  from  the  severing  of  the  nearest  ties 
of  natural  affection,  keeps  up  a  unity  of  interest.  Shakspeare's 
mastery  over  his  subject,  if  it  was  not  art,  was  owing  to  a  know- 
ledge of  the  connecting-links  of  the  passions,  and  their  effect 
upon  the  mind,  still  more  wonderful  than  any  systematic  ad- 
herence to  rules,  and  that  anticipated  and  outdid  all  the  efforts 
of  the  most  refined  art,  not  inspired  and  rendered  instinctive  by 
genius.  .  .  . 

When  Lear  dies,  indeed,  we  feel  the  truth  of  what  Kent  says  on 
the  occasion — 

"  Vex  not  his  ghost :  0  let  him  pass  !  he  hates  him, 
That  would  upon  the  rack  of  this  tough  world 
Stretch  him  out  longer." 

Yet  a  happy  ending  has  been  contrived  for  this  play,  which  is 
approved  of  by  Dr.  Johnson  and  condemned  by  Schlegel.  A  better 
authority  than  either  on  any  subject  in  which  poetry  and  feeling  are 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS-LEAR.  81 

concerned — Mr.  Charles  Lamb — has  given  it  in  favour  of  Shakspeare, 
in  some  remarks  on  the  acting  of  Lear,  with  which  we  shall  conclude 
this  account : — 

"  The  '  Lear '  of  Shakspeare  cannot  be  acted.  The  contemptible 
machinery  with  which  they  mimic  the  storm  which  he  goes  out  in, 
is  not  more  inadequate  to  represent  the  horrors  of  the  real  elements 
than  any  actor  can  be  to  represent  Lear.  The  greatness  of  Lear  is 
not  in  corporal  dimension,  but  in  intellectual ;  the  explosions  of  his 
passions  are  terrible  as  a  volcano :  they  are  storms  turning  up  and 
disclosing  to  the  bottom  that  rich  sea,  his  mind,  with  all  its  vast 
riches.  It  is  his  mind  which  is  laid  bare.  This  case  of  flesh  and 
blood  seems  too  insignificant  to  be  thought  on ;  even  as  he  himself 
neglects  it.  On  the  stage  we  see  nothing  but  corporal  infirmities 
and  weakness,  the  impotence  of  rage ;  while  we  read  it  we  see  not 
Lear,  but  we  are  Lear ; — we  are  in  his  mind :  we  are  sustained  by  a 
grandeur  which  baffles  the  malice  of  daughters  and  storms ;  in  the 
aberrations  of  his  reason  we  discover  a  mighty,  irregular  power  of 
reasoning,  immethodised  from  the  ordinary  purposes  of  life,  but 
exerting  its  powers,  as  the  wind  blows  where  it  listeth,  at  will  on 
the  corruptions  and  abuses  of  mankind.  What  have  looks  or  tones 
to  do  with  that  sublime  identification  of  his  age  with  that  of  the 
heavens  themselves,  when  in  his  reproaches  to  them  for  conniving 
at  the  injustice  of  his  children  he  reminds  them  that  '  they  them- 
selves are  old '  ?  What  gesture  shall  we  appropriate  to  this  ? 
What  has  the  voice  or  the  eye  to  do  with  such  things  ?  But  the 
play  is  beyond  all  art,  as  the  tamperings  with  it  show:  it  is  too 
hard  and  stony :  it  must  have  love-scenes,  and  a  happy  ending.  It 
is  not  enough  that  Cordelia  is  a  daughter,  she  must  shine  as  a  lover 
too.  Tate  has  put  his  hook  in  the  nostrils  of  this  Leviathan,  for 
Garrick  and  his  followers,  the  showmen  of  the  scene,  to  draw  it 
about  more  easily.  A  happy  ending ! — as  if  the  living  martyrdom 
that  Lear  had  gone  through, — the  flaying  of  his  feelings  alive,  did  not 
make  a  fair  dismissal  from  the  stage  of  life  the  only  decorous  thing 
for  him.  If  he  is  to  live  and  be  happy  after,  if  he  could  sustain 
this  world's  burden  after,  why  all  this  pudder  and  preparation — why 
torment  us  with  all  this  unnecessary  sympathy  ?  As  if  the  childish 
pleasure  of  getting  his  gilt  robes  and  sceptre  again  could  tempt  him 
to  act  over  again  his  misused  station, — as  if  at  his  years  and  with 
his  experience,  anything  was  left  but  to  die." 


62  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 


FALSTAFF. 

IF  Shakspeare's  fondness  for  the  ludicrous  sometimes  led  to  faults  in 
his  tragedies  (which  was  not  often  the  case),  he  has  made  us  amends 
by  the  character  of  Falstaff.  This  is  perhaps  the  most  substantial 
comic  character  that  ever  was  invented.  Sir  John  carries  a  most 
portly  presence  in  the  mind's  eye;  and  in  him,  not  to  speak  it 
profanely,  "  we  behold  the  fulness  of  the  spirit  of  wit  and  humour 
bodily."  We  are  as  well  acquainted  with  his  person  as  his  mind, 
and  his  jokes  come  upon  us  with  double  force  and  relish  from  the 
quantity  of  flesh  through  which  they  make  their  way,  as  he  shakes 
his  fat  sides  with  laughter,  or  "lards  the  lean  earth  as  he  walks 
along."  Other  comic  characters  seem,  if  we  approach  and  handle 
them,  to  resolve  themselves  into  air,  "  into  thin  air ; "  but  this  is 
embodied  and  palpable  to  the  grossest  apprehension :  it  lies  "  three 
lingers  deep  upon  the  ribs,"  it  plays  about  the  lungs  and  diaphragm 
with  all  the  force  of  animal  enjoyment.  His  body  is  like  a  good 
estate  to  his  mind,  from  which  he  receives  rents  and  revenues  of 
profit  and  pleasure  in  kind,  according  to  its  extent  and  the  richness 
of  the  soil.  Wit  is  often  a  meagre  substitute  for  pleasurable  sensa- 
tion ;  an  effusion  of  spleen  and  petty  spite  at  the  comforts  of  others, 
from  feeling  none  in  itself.  FalstafFs  wit  is  an  emanation  of  a  fine 
constitution ;  an  exuberance  of  good-humour  and  good-nature ;  an 
overflowing  of  his  love  of  laughter  and  good-fellowship ;  a  giving 
vent  to  his  heart's  ease,  and  over-contentment  with  himself  and 
others.  He  would  not  be  in  character  if  he  were  not  so  fat  as 
he  is ;  for  there  is  the  greatest  keeping  in  the  boundless  luxury  of 
his  imagination  and  the  pampered  self-indulgence  of  his  physical 
appetites.  He  manures  and  nourishes  his  mind  with  jests,  as  he 
does  his  body  with  sack  and  sugar.  He  carves  out  his  jokes  as  he 
would  a  capon  or  a  haunch  of  venison,  where  there  is  cut  and  come 
again,  and  pours  out  upon  them  the  oil  of  gladness.  His  tongue 
drops  fatness,  and  in  the  chambers  of  his  brain  "  it  snows  of  meat 
and  drink."  He  keeps  up  perpetual  holiday  and  open  house,  and 
we  live  with  him  in  a  round  of  invitations  to  a  rump  and  dozen. 
Yet  we  are  not  to  suppose  that  he  was  a  mere  sensualist.  All  this 
is  as  much  in  imagination  as  in  reality.  His  sensuality  does  not 
engross  and  stupefy  his  other  faculties,  but  "  ascends  me  into  the 
brain,  dries  me  there  all  the  foolish  and  dull  and  crudy  vapours 
which  environ  it,  makes  it  apprehensive,  quick,  forgetive,  full  of 
nimble,  fiery,  and  delectable  shapes."  His  imagination  keeps  up 
the  ball  after  his  senses  have  done  with  it.  He  seems  to  have 


SHAKSPEARE'S  CHARACTERS— FALSTAFF.  83 

even  a  greater  enjoyment  of  the  freedom  from  restraint,  of  good 
cheer,  of  his  ease,  of  his  vanity,  in  the  ideal  exaggerated  description 
which  he  gives  of  them,  than  in  fact.  He  never  fails  to  enrich  his 
discourse  with  allusions  to  eating  and  drinking,  but  we  never  see 
him  at  table.  He  carries  his  own  larder  about  with  him,  and  he  is 
himself  "  a  tun  of  man."  His  pulling  out  the  bottle  in  the  field  of 
battle  is  a  joke  to  show  his  contempt  for  glory  accompanied  with 
danger,  his  systematic  adherence  to  his  Epicurean  philosophy  in  the 
most  trying  circumstances.  Again,  such  is  his  deliberate  exaggera- 
tion of  his  own  vices,  that  it  does  not  seem  quite  certain  whether 
the  account  of  his  hostess's  bill,  found  in  his  pocket,  with  such  an 
out-of-the-way  charge  for  capons  and  sack  with  only  one  halfpenny- 
worth of  bread,  was  not  put  there  by  himself  as  a  trick  to  humour 
the  jest  upon  his  favourite  propensities,  and  as  a  conscious  carica- 
ture of  himself.  He  is  represented  as  a  liar,  a  braggart,  a  coward, 
a  glutton,  &c.,  and  yet  we  are  not  offended  but  delighted  with  him ; 
for  he  is  all  these  as  much  to  amuse  others  as  to  gratify  himself. 
He  openly  assumes  all  these  characters  to  show  the  humorous  part 
of  them.  The  unrestrained  indulgence  of  his  own  ease,  appetites, 
and  convenience  has  neither  malice  nor  hypocrisy  in  it.  In  a  word, 
he  is  an  actor  in  himself  almost  as  much  as  upon  the  stage,  and  we 
no  more  object  to  the  character  of  Falstaff  in  a  moral  point  of  view 
than  we  should  think  of  bringing  an  excellent  comedian,  who  should 
represent  him  to  the  life,  before  one  of  the  police-offices.  We  only 
consider  the  number  of  pleasant  lights  in  which  he  puts  certain 
foibles  (the  more  pleasant  as  they  are  opposed  to  the  received  rules 
and  necessary  restraints  of  society),  and  do  not  trouble  ourselves 
about  the  consequences  resulting  from  them,  for  no  mischievous 
consequences  do  result.  Sir  John  is  old  as  well  as  fat,  which  gives 
a  melancholy  retrospective  tinge  to  the  character;  and  by  the 
disparity  between  his  inclinations  and  his  capacity  for  enjoyment, 
makes  it  still  more  ludicrous  and  fantastical. 

The  secret  of  Falstaff s  wit  is  for  the  most  part  a  masterly  presence 
of  mind,  an  absolute  self-possession,  which  nothing  can  disturb.  His 
repartees  are  involuntary  suggestions  of  his  self-love ;  instinctive 
evasions  of  everything  that  threatens  to  interrupt  the  career  of  his 
triumphant  jollity  and  self-complacency.  His  very  size  floats  him 
out  of  all  his  difficulties  in  a  sea  of  rich  conceits;  and  he  turns 
round  on  the  pivot  of  his  convenience,  with  every  occasion  and  at 
a  moment's  warning.  His  natural  repugnance  to  every  unpleasant 
thought  or  circumstance,  of  itself  makes  light  of  objections,  and 
provokes  the  most  extravagant  and  licentious  answers  in  his  own 
justification.  His  indifference  to  truth  puts  no  check  upon  his 


84          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

invention,  and  the  more  improbable  and  unexpected  his  contriv- 
ances are,  the  more  happily  does  he  seem  to  be  delivered  of  them, 
the  anticipation  of  their  effect  acting  as  a  stimulus  to  the  gaiety  of 
his  fancy.  The  success  of  one  adventurous  sally  gives  him  spirits 
to  undertake  another :  he  deals  always  in  round  numbers,  and  his 
exaggerations  and  excuses  are  "open,  palpable,  monstrous  as  the 
father  that  begets  them." 


[A  View  of  the  English  Stage  ;  or  a  Series  of  Dramatic  Criticisms,  1818.] 

THE  ACTING  OF  KEAN. 

...  I-  WENT  to  see  him  the  first  night  of  his  appearing  in  Shylock. 
I  remember  it  well.  The  boxes  were  empty,  and  the  pit  not  half- 
full:  "some  quantity  of  barren  spectators  and  idle  renters  were 
thinly  scattered  to  make  up  a  show."  The  whole  presented  a 
dreary,  hopeless  aspect.  I  was  in  considerable  apprehension  for  the 
result.  From  the  first  scene  in  which  Mr.  Kean  came  on  my  doubts 
were  at  an  end.  I  had  been  told  to  give  as  favourable  an  account 
as  I  could :  I  gave  a  true  one.  I  am  not  one  of  those  who,  when 
they  see  the  sun  breaking  from  behind  a  cloud,  stop  to  ask  others 
whether  it  is  the  moon.  Mr.  Kean's  appearance  was  the  first  gleam 
of  genius  breaking  athwart  the  gloom  of  the  Stage,  and  the  public 
have  since  gladly  basked  in  its  ray,  in  spite  of  actors,  managers,  and 
critics.  .  .  . 

Mr.  Kean  (of  whom  report  had  spoken  highly)  last  night 1  made 
his  appearance  at  Drury  Lane  Theatre  in  the  character  of  Shylock. 
For  voice,  eye,  action,  and  expression  no  actor  has  come  out  for 
many  years  at  all  equal  to  him.  The  applause,  from  the  first  scene 
to  the  last,  was  general,  loud,  and  uninterrupted.  Indeed,  the  very 
first  scene  in  which  he  comes  on  with  Bassanio  and  Antonio  showed 
the  master  in  his  art,  and  at  once  decided  the  opinion  of  the 
audience.  Perhaps  it  was  the  most  perfect  of  any.  Notwith- 
standing the  complete  success  of  Mr.  Kean  in  the  part  of  Shylock 
we  question  whether  he  will  not  become  a  greater  favourite  in  other 
parts.  There  was  a  lightness  and  vigour  in  his  tread,  a  buoyancy 
and  elasticity  of  spirit,  a  fire  and  animation,  which  would  accord 
better  with  almost  any  other  character  than  with  the  morose, 
sullen,  inward,  inveterate,  inflexible  malignity  of  Shylock.  The 
character  of  Shylock  is  that  of  a  man  brooding  over  one  idea,  that 

1  January  26,  1814. 


THE  ACTING  OF  KEAN.  85 

of  its  wrongs,  and  bent  on  one  unalterable  purpose,  that  of  revenge. 
In  conveying  a  profound  impression  of  this  feeling,  or  in  embodying 
the  general  conception  of  rigid  and  uncontrollable  self-will,  equally 
proof  against  every  sentiment  of  humanity  or  prejudice  of  opinion, 
we  have  seen  actors  more  successful  than  Mr.  Kean ;  but  in  giving 
effect  to  the  conflict  of  passions  arising  out  of  the  contrasts  of  situa- 
tion, in  varied  vehemence  of  declamation,  in  keenness  %f  sarcasm,  in 
the  rapidity  of  his  transitions  from  one  tone  and  feeling  to  another, 
in  propriety  and  novelty  of  action,  presenting  a  succession  of  strik- 
ing pictures,  and  giving  perpetually  fresh  shocks  of  delight  and 
surprise,  it  would  be  difficult  to  single  out  a  competitor.  The  fault 
of  his  acting  was  (if  we  may  hazard  the  objection)  an  over-display 
of  the  resources  of  the  art,  which  gave  too  much  relief  to  the  hard, 
impenetrable,  dark  groundwork  of  the  character  of  Shylock.  It 
would  be  endless  to  point  out  individual  beauties,  where  almost 
every  passage  was  received  with  equal  and  deserved  applause.  We 
thought,  in  one  or  two  instances,  the  pauses  in  the  voice  were  too 
long,  and  too  great  a  reliance  placed  on  the  expression  of  the 
countenance,  which  is  a  language  intelligible  only  to  a  part  of  the 
house.  .  .  . 

.  .  .  Mr.  Kean's  Othello  is  his  best  character,  and  the  highest 
effort  of  genius  on  the  stage.  We  say  this  without  any  exception 
or  reserve.  Yet  we  wish  it  was  better  than  it  is.  In  parts,  we 
think  he  rises  as  high  as  human  genius  can  go:  at  other  times, 
though  powerful,  the  whole  effort  is  thrown  away  in  a  wrong  direc- 
tion, and  disturbs  our  idea  of  the  character.  There  are  some  tech- 
nical objections.  Othello  was  tall ;  but  that  is  nothing :  he  was 
black ;  but  that  is  nothing.  But  he  was  not  fierce,  and  that  is  every- 
thing. It  is  only  in  the  last  agony  of  human  suffering  that  he  gives 
way  to  his  rage  and  his  despair,  and  it  is  in  working  his  noble  nature 
up  to  that  extremity  that  Shakspeare  has  shown  his  genius  and  his 
vast  power  over  the  human  heart.  It  was  in  raising  passion  to  its 
height,  from  the  lowest  beginnings  and  in  spite  of  all  obstacles,  in 
showing  the  conflict  of  the  soul,  the  tug  and  war  between  love 
and  hatred,  rage,  tenderness,  jealousy,  remorse,  in  laying  open  the 
strength  and  the  weaknesses  of  human  nature,  in  uniting  sublimity 
of  thought  with  the  anguish  of  the  keenest  woe,  in  putting  in 
motion  all  the  springs  and  impulses  which  make  up  this  our  mortal 
being,  and  at  last  blending  them  in  that  noble  tide  of  deep  and 
sustained  passion,  impetuous  but  majestic,  "that  flows  on  to  the 
Propontic  and  knows  no  ebb,"  that  the  great  excellence  of  Shakspeare 
lay.  Mr.  Kean  is  in  general  all  passion,  all  energy,  all  relentless 
will.  He  wants  imagination,  that  faculty  which  contemplates 


86  WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

events,  and  broods  over  feelings  with  a  certain  calmness  and  gran- 
deur ;  his  feelings  almost  always  hurry  on  to  action,  and  hardly  ever 
repose  upon  themselves.  He  is  too  often  in  the  highest  key  of 
passion,  too  uniformly  on  the  verge  of  extravagance,  too  constantly 
on  the  rack.  This  does  very  well  in  certain  characters,  as  Zanga  or 
Bajazet,  where  there  is  merely  a  physical  passion,  a  boiling  of  the 
blood  to  be  expressed,  but  it  is  not  so  in  the  lofty-minded  and 
generous  Moor. 

We  make  these  remarks  the  more  freely,  because  there  were  parts 
of  the  character  in  which  Mr.  Kean  showed  the  greatest  sublimity 
and  pathos,  by  laying  aside  all  violence  of  action.  For  instance, 
the  tone  of  voice  in  which  he  delivered  the  beautiful  apostrophe, 
"  Then,  oh,  farewell ! "  struck  on  the  heart  like  the  swelling  notes 
of  some  divine  music,  like  the  sound  of  years  of  departed  happiness. 
Why  not  all  so,  or  all  that  is  like  it  ?  Why  not  speak  the  affecting 
passage,  "  I  found  not  Cassio's  kisses  on  her  lips  " — why  not  speak 
the  last  speech,  in  the  same  manner  ?  They  are  both  of  them,  we 
do  most  strenuously  contend,  speeches  of  pure  pathos,  of  thought 
and  feeling,  and  not  of  passion,  venting  itself  in  violence  of  action 
or  gesture.  Again,  the  look,  the  action,  the  expression  of  voice, 
with  which  he  accompanied  the  exclamation,  "  Not  a  jot,  not  a  jot," 
was  perfectly  heart-rending.  His  vow  of  revenge  against  Cassio 
and  his  abandonment  of  his  love  for  Desdemona  were  as  fine  as 
possible.  The  whole  of  the  third  act  had  an  irresistible  effect  upon 
the  house,  and  indeed  is  only  to  be  paralleled  by  the  murder-scene 
in  "Macbeth."  . 


MRS.  SIDDONS. 

.  .  .  THE  homage  she  has  received  is  greater  than  that  which  is 
paid  to  Queens.  The  enthusiasm  she  excited  had  something  idola- 
trous about  it ;  she  was  regarded  less  with  admiration  than  with 
wonder,  as  if  a  being  of  a  superior  order  had  dropped  from  another 
sphere  to  awe  the  world  with  the  majesty  of  her  appearance.  She 
raised  Tragedy  to  the  skies,  or  brought  it  down  from  thence.  It 
was  something  above  nature.  We  can  conceive  of  nothing  grander. 
She  embodied  to  our  imagination  the  fables  of  mythology,  of  the 
heroic  and  deified  mortals  of  elder  time.  She  was  not  less  than  a 
goddess,  or  than  a  prophetess  inspired  by  the  gods.  Power  was 
seated  on  her  brow,  passion  emanated  from  her  breast  as  from  a 
shrine.  She  was  Tragedy  personified.  She  was  the  stateliest 
ornament  of  the  public  mind.  She  was  not  only  the  idol  of  the 
people,  she  not  only  hushed  the  tumultuous  shouts  of  the  pit  in 


DISSENTERS  AND  DISSENTING  MINISTERS.          87 

breathless  expectation,  and  quenched  the  blaze  of  surrounding 
beauty  in  silent  tears,  but  to  the  retired  and  lonely  student,  through 
long  years  of  solitude,  her  face  has  shone  as  if  an  eye  had  appeared 
from  heaven ;  her  name  has  been  as  if  a  voice  had  opened  the 
chambers  of  the  human  heart,  or  as  if  a  trumpet  had  awakened  the 
sleeping  and  the  dead.  To  have  seen  Mrs.  Siddons  was  an  event  in 
every  one's  life.  .  .  . 

Mrs.  Siddons's  appearance  in  Lady  Macbeth  at  this  theatre  on 
Thursday  drew  immense  crowds  to  every  part  of  the  house.  We 
should  suppose  that  more  than  half  the  number  of  persons  were 
compelled  to  return  without  gaining  admittance.  We  succeeded  in 
gaining  a  seat  in  one  of  the  back-boxes,  and  saw  this  wonderful 
performance  at  a  distance,  and  consequently  at  a  disadvantage. 
Though  the  distance  of  place  is  a  disadvantage  to  a  performance 
like  Mrs.  Siddons's  Lady  Macbeth,  we  question  whether  the  distance 
of  time  at  which  we  have  formerly  seen  it  is  any.  It  is  nearly 
twenty  years  since  we  first  saw  her  hi  this  character,  and  certainly 
the  impression  which  we  have  still  left  on  our  minds  from  that  first 
exhibition  is  stronger  than  the  one  we  received  the  other  evening. 
The  sublimity  of  Mrs.  Siddons's  acting  is  such,  that  the  first  impulse 
which  it  gives  to  the  mind  can  never  wear  out,  and  we  doubt  whether 
this  original  and  paramount  impression  is  not  weakened,  rather 
than  strengthened,  by  subsequent  repetition ;  if  we  have  seen  Mrs. 
Siddons  in  Lady  Macbeth  only  once,  it  is  enough.  The  impression 
is  stamped  there  for  ever,  and  any  after-experiments  and  critical 
inquiries  only  serve  to  fritter  away  and  tamper  with  the  sacredness 
of  the  early  recollection. 


[Political  Essays,  with  Sketches  of  Public  Characters,  1819.] 

DISSENTERS  AND  DISSENTING  MINISTERS. 

.  .  .  WE  are  told  that  the  different  sects  are  hot-beds  of  sedition, 
because  they  are  nurseries  of  public  spirit,  and  independence,  and 
sincerity  of  opinion  in  all  other  respects.  They  are  so  necessarily, 
and  by  the  supposition.  They  are  Dissenters  from  the  Established 
Church ;  they  submit  voluntarily  to  certain  privations,  they  incur 
a  certain  portion  of  obloquy  and  ill-will,  for  the  sake  of  what  they 
believe  to  be  the  truth :  they  are  not  time-servers  on  the  face  of  the 
evidence,  and  that  is  sufficient  to  expose  them  to  the  instinctive 
hatred  and  ready  ribaldry  of  those  who  think  venality  the  first  of 


88          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

virtues,  and  prostitution  of  principle  the  best  sacrifice  a  man  can 
make  to  the  Graces  or  his  Country.  The  Dissenter  does  not  change 
his  sentiments  with  the  seasons  :  he  does  not  suit  his  conscience  to 
his  convenience.  This  is  enough  to  condemn  him  for  a  pestilent 
fellow.  He  will  not  give  up  his  principles  because  they  are  un- 
fashionable ;  therefore  he  is  not  to  be  trusted.  He  speaks  his  mind 
bluntly  and  honestly ;  therefore  he  is  a  secret  disturber  of  the  peace, 
a  dark  conspirator  against  the  State.  On  the  contrary,  the  different 
sects  in  this  country  are,  or  have  been,  the  steadiest  supporters  of 
its  liberties  and  laws :  they  are  checks  and  barriers  against  the  in- 
sidious or  avowed  encroachments  of  arbitrary  power,  as  effectual  and 
indispensable  as  any  others  in  the  Constitution :  they  are  depositaries 
of  a  principle  as  sacred  and  somewhat  rarer  than  a  devotion  to  Court- 
influence — we  mean  the  love  of  truth.  It  is  hard  for  any  one  to  be 
an  honest  politician  who  is  not  born  and  bred  a  Dissenter.  Nothing 
else  can  sufficiently  inure  and  steel  a  man  against  the  prevailing  pre- 
judices of  the  world  but  that  habit  of  mind  which  arises  from  non- 
conformity to  its  decisions  in  matters  of  religion.  There  is  a  natural 
alliance  between  the  love  of  civil  and  religious  liberty,  as  much  as 
between  Church  and  State.  Protestantism  was  the  first  school  of 
political  liberty  in  Europe:  Presbyterianism  has  been  one  great 
support  of  it  in  England.  The  sectary  in  religion  is  taught  to 
appeal  to  his  own  bosom  for  the  truth  and  sincerity  of  his  opinions, 
and  to  arm  himself  with  stern  indifference  to  what  others  think 
of  them.  This  will  no  doubt  often  produce  a  certain  hardness  of 
manner  and  cold  repulsiveness  of  feeling  in  trifling  matters,  but  it 
is  the  only  sound  discipline  of  truth,  or  inflexible  honesty  in  politics 
as  well  as  in  religion.  The  same  principle  of  independent  inquiry 
and  unbiassed  conviction  which  makes  him  reject  all  undue  inter- 
ference between  his  Maker  and  his  conscience  will  give  a  character 
of  uprightness  and  disregard  of  personal  consequences  to  his  conduct 
and  sentiments  in  what  concerns  the  most  important  relations  be- 
tween man  and  man.  He  neither  subscribes  to  the  dogmas  of  priests 
nor  truckles  to  the  mandates  of  Ministers.  He  has  a  rigid  sense  of 
duty  which  renders  him  superior  to  the  caprice,  the  prejudices,  and 
the  injustice  of  the  world ;  and  the  same  habitual  consciousness  of 
rectitude  of  purpose  which  leads  him  to  rely  for  his  self-respect  on 
the  testimony  of  his  own  heart  enables  him  to  disregard  the  ground- 
less malice  and  rash  judgments  of  his  opponents.  It  is  in  vain  for 
him  to  pay  his  court  to  the  world,  to  fawn  upon  power ;  he  labours 
under  certain  insurmountable  disabilities  for  becoming  a  candidate 
for  its  favour :  he  dares  to  contradict  its  opinion  and  to  condemn  its 
usages  in  the  most  important  article  of  all.  The  world  will  always 


DISSENTERS  AND  DISSENTING  MINISTERS.          89 

look  cold  and  askance  upon  him  ;  and  therefore  he  may  defy  it  with 
less  fear  of  its  censures. 

Dissenters  are  the  safest  partisans  and  the  steadiest  friends. 
Indeed,  they  are  almost  the  only  people  who  have  an  idea  of  an 
abstract  attachment  to  a  cause  or  to  individuals,  from  a  sense  of 
fidelity,  independently  of  prosperous  or  adverse  circumstances,  and 
in  spite  of  opposition.  No  patriotism,  no  public  spirit,  not  reared  in 
that  inclement  sky  and  harsh  soil,  in  "  the  hortus  siccus  of  Dissent," 
will  generally  last :  it  will  either  bend  in  the  storm  or  droop  in  the 
sunshine.  Non  ex  quovis  ligno  fit  Mercurius.  You  cannot  engraft 
a  medlar  on  a  crab-apple.  A  thoroughbred  Dissenter  will  never 
make  an  accomplished  courtier.  .  .  . 

.  .  .  We  have  known  some  such  [Dissenting  ministers]  in  happier 
days,  who  had  been  brought  up  and  lived  from  youth  to  age  in  the 
one  constant  belief  of  God  and  of  His  Christ,  and  who  thought  all 
other  things  but  dross  compared  with  the  glory  hereafter  to  be  re- 
vealed. Their  youthful  hopes  and  vanity  had  been  mortified  in 
them,  even  in  their  boyish  days,  by  the  neglect  and  supercilious 
regards  of  the  world ;  and  they  turned  to  look  into  their  own  minds 
for  something  else  to  build  their  hopes  and  confidence  upon.  They 
were  true  Priests.  They  set  up  an  image  in  their  own  minds — it  was 
truth  :  they  worshipped  an  idol  there — it  was  justice.  They  looked 
on  man  as  their  brother,  and  only  bowed  the  knee  to  the  Highest. 
Separate  from  the  world,  they  walked  humbly  with  their  God,  and 
lived  in  thought  with  those  who  had  borne  testimony  of  a  good  con- 
science, with  the  spirits  of  just  men  in  all  ages.  They  saw  Moses 
when  he  slew  the  Egyptian,  and  the  Prophets  who  overturned  the 
brazen  images,  and  those  who  were  stoned  and  sawn  asunder.  They 
were  with  Daniel  in  the  lions'  den,  and  with  the  three  children  who 
passed  through  the  fiery  furnace,  Meshech,  Shadrach,  and  Abed- 
nego  ;  they  did  not  crucify  Christ  twice  over,  or  deny  Him  in  their 
hearts,  with  St.  Peter ;  the  "  Book  of  Martyrs  "  was  open  to  them , 
they  read  the  story  of  William  Tell,  of  John  Huss  "and  Jerome  of 
Prague,  and  the  old  one-eyed  Zisca ;  they  had  Neale's  "  History  of 
the  Puritans"  by  heart,  and  Calamy's  "Account  of  the  Two  Thousand 
Ejected  Ministers,"  and  gave  it  to  their  children  to  read,  with  the 
pictures  of  the  polemical  Baxter,  the  silver-tongued  Bates,  the  mild- 
looking  Calamy,  and  old  honest  Howe ;  they  believed  in  Lardner's 
"  Credibility  of  the  Gospel  History ; "  they  were  deep-read  in  the  works 
of  the  Fratres  Poloni,  Pripscovius,  Crellius,  Cracovius,  who  sought  out 
truth  in  texts  of  Scripture,  and  grew  blind  over  Hebrew  points , 
their  aspiration  after  liberty  was  a  sigh  uttered  from  the  towers, 
"  time-rent,"  of  the  Holy  Inquisition ;  and  their  zeal  for  religious 


90          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

toleration  was  kindled  at  the  fires  of  Smithfield.  Their  sympathy 
was  not  with  the  oppressors  but  the  oppressed.  They  cherished  in 
their  thoughts — and  wished  to  transmit  to  their  posterity — those 
rights  and  privileges  for  asserting  which  their  ancestors  had  bled  on 
scaffolds,  or  had  pined  in  dungeons  or  in  foreign  climes.  Their  creed, 
too,  was  "  Glory  to  God,  peace  on  earth,  good- will  to  man."  This  creed, 
since  profaned  and  rendered  vile,  they  kept  fast  through  good  report 
and  evil  report.  This  belief  they  had,  that  looks  at  something  out 
of  itself,  fixed  as  the  stars,  deep  as  the  firmament,  that  makes  of  its 
own  heart  an  altar  to  truth,  a  place  of  worship  for  what  is  right,  at 
which  it  does  reverence  with  praise  and  prayer  like  a  holy  thing, 
apart  and  content ;  that  feels  that  the  greatest  Being  in  the  universe 
is  always  near  it,  and  that  all  things  work  together  for  the  good  of 
His  creatures,  under  His  guiding  hand.  This  covenant  they  kept,  as 
the  stars  keep  their  courses  ;  this  principle  they  stuck  by,  for  want  of 
knowing  better,  as  it  sticks  by  them  to  the  last.  It  grew  with  their 
growth,  it  does  not  wither  in  their  decay.  It  lives  when  the  almond- 
tree  flourishes,  and  is  not  bowed  down  with  the  tottering  knees.  It 
glimmers  with  the  last  feeble  eyesight,  smiles  in  the  faded  cheek  like 
infancy,  and  lights  a  path  before  them  to  the  grave. 


THE  CHUKCH  AND  ITS  CLEKGY. 

.  .  .  THE  bane  of  all  religions  has  been  the  necessity  (real  or  sup- 
posed) of  keeping  up  an  attention  and  attaching  a  value  to  external 
forms  and  ceremonies.  It  was,  of  course,  much  easier  to  conform 
to  these,  or  to  manifest  a  reverence  for  them,  than  to  practise  the 
virtues  or  understand  the  doctrines  of  true  religion,  of  which  they 
were  merely  the  outward  types  and  symbols.  The  consequence  has 
been,  that  the  greatest  stress  has  been  perpetually  laid  on  what 
was  of  the  least  value  and  most  easily  professed.  The  form  of 
religion  has  superseded  the  substance ;  the  means  have  supplanted 
the  end ;  and  the  sterling  coin  of  charity  and  good  works  has  been 
driven  out  of  the  currency,  for  the  base  counterfeits  of  supersti- 
tion and  intolerance,  by  all  the  money-changers  and  dealers  in  the 
temples  established  to  religion  throughout  the  world.  Vestments 
and  chalices  have  been  multiplied  for  the  reception  of  the  Holy 
Spirit ;  the  tagged  points  of  controversy  and  lacquered  varnish  of 
hypocrisy  have  eaten  into  the  solid  substance  and  texture  of  piety ; 
"  and  all  the  inward  acts  of  worship,  issuing  from  the  native  strength 


THE  ESTABLISHED  CLERGY.  91 

of  the  soul,  run  out  (as  Milton  expresses  it)  lavishly  to  the  upper 
skin,  and  there  harden  into  the  crust  of  formality."  Hence  we  have 
had  such  shoals  of 

"  Eremites  and  Friars 
White,  black,  and  grey,  with  all  their  trumpery  " — 

who  have  foisted  their  "  idiot  and  embryo  "  inventions  upon  us  for 
truth,  and  who  have  fomented  all  the  bad  passions  of  the  heart, 
and  let  loose  all  the  mischiefs  of  war,  of  fire  and  famine,  to  avenge 
the  slightest  difference  of  opinion  on  any  one  iota  of  their  lying 
creeds,  or  the  slightest  disrespect  to  any  one  of  those  mummeries 
and  idle  pageants  which  they  had  set  up  as  sacred  idols  for  the 
world  to  wonder  at.  We  do  not  forget,  in  making  these  remarks, 
that  there  was  a  time  when  the  persons  who  will  be  most  annoyed 
and  scandalised  at  them  would  have  taken  a  more  effectual  mode  of 
showing  their  zeal  and  indignation ;  when  to  have  expressed  a  free 
opinion  on  a  monk's  cowl  or  a  Cardinal's  hat  would  have  exposed 
the  writer  who  had  been  guilty  of  such  sacrilege  to  the  pains  and 
penalties  of  excommunication  :  to  be  burnt  to  an  auto  da  fe;  to  be 
consigned  to  the  dungeons  of  the  Inquisition,  or  doomed  to  the 
mines  of  Spanish  America ;  to  have  his  nose  slit,  or  his  ears  cut  off, 
or  his  hand  reduced  to  a  stump.  Such  were  the  considerate  and 
humane  proceedings  by  which  the  priests  of  former  times  vindicated 
their  own  honour,  which  they  pretended  to  be  the  honour  of  God. 
Such  was  their  humility,  when  they  had  the  power.  .  .  . 


THE  ESTABLISHED  CLERGY. 

.  .  .  THE  Established  Clergy  of  any  religion  are  bound  to  conform 
their  professions  of  religious  belief  to  a  certain  popular  and  lucrative 
standard,  and  bound  over  to  keep  the  peace  by  certain  articles  of 
faith.  It  is  a  rare  felicity  in  any  one  who  gives  his  attention  fairly 
and  freely  to  the  subject,  and  has  read  the  Scriptures,  the  Misnah, 
and  the  Talmud — the  Fathers,  the  Schoolmen,  the  Socinian  divines, 
the  Lutheran  and  Calvinistic  controversy,  with  innumerable  volumes 
appertaining  thereto  and  illustrative  thereof,  to  believe  all  the 
Thirty-nine  Articles,  "  except  one."  If  those  who  are  destined  for 
the  episcopal  office  exercise  their  understandings  honestly  and 
openly  upon  every  one  of  these  questions,  how  little  chance  is  there 
that  they  should  come  to  the  same  conclusion  upon  them  all !  If 
they  do  not  inquire,  what  becomes  of  their  independence  of  under- 


92          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

standing?  If  they  conform  to  what  they  do  not  believe,  what 
becomes  of  their  honesty  ?  Their  estimation  in  the  world,  as  well 
as  their  livelihood,  depends  on  their  tamely  submitting  their  under- 
standing to  authority  at  first,  and  on  their  not  seeing  reason  to 
alter  their  opinion  afterwards.  Is  it  likely  that  a  man  will  intrepidly 
open  his  eyes  to  conviction  when  he  sees  poverty  and  disgrace 
staring  him  in  the  face  as  the  inevitable  consequence  ?  .  .  . 

Take  one  illustration  of  the  truth  of  all  that  has  been  here  said, 
and  of  more  that  might  be  said,  upon  the  subject.  It  is  related  in 
that  valuable  comment  on  the  present  reign  and  the  existing  order 
of  things,  Bishop  Watson's  Life,  that  the  late  Dr.  Paley,  having  at 
one  time  to  maintain  a  thesis  in  the  University,  proposed  to  the 
Bishop,  for  his  approbation,  the  following: — "That  the  Eternity 
of  Hell  torments  is  contradictory  to  the  goodness  of  God."  The 
Bishop  observed,  that  he  thought  this  a  bold  doctrine  to  maintain 
in  the  face  of  the  Church ;  but  Paley  persisted  in  his  determination. 
Soon  after,  however,  having  sounded  the  opinions  of  certain  persons 
high  in  authority  and  well  read  in  the  orthodoxy  of  preferment,  he 
came  back  in  great  alarm,  said  he  found  the  thing  would  not  do, 
and  begged,  instead  of  his  first  thesis,  to  have  the  reverse  one  sub- 
stituted in  its  stead,  viz. — "  That  the  Eternity  of  Hell  torments  is 
not  contradictory  to  the  goodness  of  God."  What  burning  daylight 
is  here  thrown  on  clerical  discipline  and  the  bias  of  a  University 
education !  This  passage  is  worth  all  Mosheim's  "  Ecclesiastical 
History,"  Wood's  "  Athense  Oxonienses,"  and  Mr.  Coleridge's  two 
"Lay  Sermons."  This  same  shuffling  divine  is  the  same  Dr.  Paley  who 
afterwards  employed  the  whole  of  his  life,  and  his  moderate  second- 
hand abilities,  in  tampering  with  religion,  morality,  and  politics,— 
in  trimming  between  his  convenience  and  his  conscience, — in  crawl- 
ing between  heaven  and  earth,  and  trying  to  cajole  both.  His 
celebrated  and  popular  work  on  Moral  Philosophy  is  celebrated  and 
popular  for  no  other  reason,  than  that  it  is  a  somewhat  ingeni- 
ous and  amusing  apology  for  existing  abuses  of  every  description, 
by  which  anything  is  to  be  got.  It  is  a  very  elaborate  and  con- 
solatory elucidation  of  the  text,  that  men  should  not  quarrel  with 
their  bread  and  butter.  It  is  not  an  attempt  to  show  what  is  right, 
but  to  palliate  and  find  out  plausible  excuses  for  what  is  wrong. 
It  is  a  work  without  the  least  value,  except  as  a  convenient  common- 
place book  or  vade  mecum  for  tyro  politicians  and  young  divines, 
to  smooth  their  progress  in  the  Church  or  the  State.  This  work  is 
a  text-book  in  the  University.  .  .  . 


LETTER  TO  WILLIAM  GIFFORD.  93 


[Letter  to  William  Gifford,  Esq.,  1819.] 

[If  ever  an  author  was  justified  in  attacking  an  unscrupulous  critic,  it  was 
Hazlitt.  The  reader,  after  perusing  what  has  been  said  on  this  subject  in  the 
Memoir  prefixed  to  this  volume,  will  not  be  surprised  at  the  indignant  tone 
of  the  letter.  I  have  only  given  the  introductory  pages.  The  "bringing 
to  book  "  of  the  slanderer  is  a  fine  specimen  of  trenchant  exposure.] 

SIR, — You  have  an  ugly  trick  of  saying  what  is  not  true  of.  any 
one  you  do  not  like ;  and  it  will  be  the  object  of  this  letter  to  cure 
you  of  it.  You  say  what  you  please  of  others :  it  is  time  you  were 
told  what  you  are.  In  doing  this,  give  me  leave  to  borrow  the 
familiarity  of  your  style : — for  the  fidelity  of  the  picture  I  shall  be 
answerable. 

You  are  a  little  person,  but  a  considerable  cat's-paw ;  and  so  far 
worthy  of  notice.  Your  clandestine  connection  with  persons  high 
in  office  constantly  influences  your  opinions,  and  alone  gives  impor- 
tance to  them.  You  are  the  Government  Critic,  a  character  nicely 
differing  from  that  of  a  Government  spy — the  invisible  link  that 
connects  literature  with  the  police.  It  is  your  business  to  keep  a 
strict  eye  over  all  writers  who  differ  in  opinion  with  His  Majesty's 
Ministers,  and  to  measure  their  talents  and  attainments  by  the 
standard  of  their  servility  and  meanness.  For  this  office  you  are 
well  qualified.  Besides  being  the  Editor  of  the  Quarterly  Review, 
you  are  also  paymaster  of  the  band  of  Gentlemen  Pensioners ;  and 
when  an  author  comes  before  you  in  the  one  capacity,  with  whom 
you  are  not  acquainted  in  the  other,  you  know  how  to  deal  with 
him.  You  have  your  cue  beforehand.  The  distinction  between 
truth  and  falsehood  you  make  no  account  of :  you  mind  only  the 
distinction  between  Whig  and  Tory.  Accustomed  to  the  indulgence 
of  your  mercenary  virulence  and  party-spite,  you  have  lost  all  relish 
as  well  as  capacity  for  the  unperverted  exercises  of  the  understand- 
ing, and  make  up  for  the  obvious  want  of  ability  by  a  barefaced 
want  of  principle.  The  same  set  of  threadbare  commonplaces, 
the  same  second-hand  assortment  of  abusive  nick-names,  the  same 
assumption  of  little  magisterial  airs  of  superiority,  are  regularly 
repeated ;  and  the  ready  convenient  lie  comes  in  aid  of  the  dearth 
of  other  resources,  and  passes  off,  with  impunity,  in  the  garb  of 
religion  and  loyalty.  If  no  one  finds  it  out,  why  then  there  is  no 
harm  done— snub's  the  word ;  or  if  it  should  be  detected,  it  is  a  good 
joke,  shows  spirit  and  invention  in  proportion  to  its  grossness  and 
impudence,  and  it  is  only  a  pity  that  what  was  so  well  meant  in 


94          WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

so  good  a  cause  should  miscarry!  The  end  sanctifies  the  means; 
and  you  keep  no  faith  with  heretics  in  religion  or  government. 
You  are  under  the  protection  of  the  Court  j  and  your  zeal  for 
your  king  and  country  entitles  you  to  say  what  you  choose  of  every 
public  writer  who  does  not  do  all  in  his  power  to  pamper  the  one 
into  a  tyrant,  and  to  trample  the  other  into  a  herd  of  slaves.  You 
derive  your  weight  with  the  great  and  powerful  from  the  very  cir- 
cumstance that  takes  away  all  real  weight  from  your  authority,  viz., 
that  it  is  avowedly,  and  upon  every  occasion,  exerted  for  no  one 
purpose  but  to  hold  up  to  hatred  and  contempt  whatever  opposes 
in  the  slightest  degree  and  in  the  most  flagrant  instances  of  abuse 
their  pride  and  passions.  You  dictate  your  opinions  to  a  party, 
because  not  one  of  your  opinions  is  formed  upon  an  honest  conviction 
of  the  truth  or  justice  of  the  case,  but  by  collusion  with  the  pre- 
judices, caprice,  interest,  or  vanity  of  your  employers.  The  mob  of 
well-dressed  readers  who  consult  the  Quarterly  Review  know  that 
there  is  no  offence  in  it.  They  put  faith  in  it  because  they  are  aware 
that  it  is  "  false  and  hollow,  but  will  please  the  ear ; "  that  it 
will  tell  them  nothing  but  what  they  would  wish  to  believe.  Your 
reasoning  comes  under  the  head  of  Court-news;  your  taste  is  a 
standard  of  the  prevailing  ton  in  certain  circles,  like  Ackerman's 
dresses  for  May.  When  you  damn  an  author,  one  knows  that  he  is 
not  a  favourite  at  Carlton  House.  When  you  say  that  an  author 
cannot  write  common  sense  or  English,  you  mean  that  he  does  not 
believe  in  the  doctrine  of  divine  right.  Of  course,  the  clergy  and 
gentry  will  not  read  such  an  author.  Your  praise  or  blame  has 
nothing  to  do  with  the  merits  of  a  work,  but  with  the  party  to 
which  the  writer  belongs,  or  is  in  the  inverse  ratio  of  its  merits. 
The  dingy  cover  that  wraps  the  pages  of  the  Quarterly  Review  does 
not  contain  a  concentrated  essence  of  taste  and  knowledge,  but  is  a 
receptacle  for  the  scum  and  sediment  of  all  the  prejudice,  bigotry, 
ill-will,  ignorance,  and  rancour  afloat  in  the  kingdom.  This  the 
fools  and  knaves  who  pin  their  faith  on  you  know,  and  it  is  on  this 
account  they  pin  their  faith  on  you.  They  come  to  you  for  a  scale 
not  of  literary  talent,  but  of  political  subserviency.  They  want  you 
to  set  your  mark  of  approbation  on  a  writer  as  a  thorough-paced 
tool,  or  of  reprobation  as  an  honest  man.  Your  fashionable  readers, 
Sir,  are  hypocrites  as  well  as  knaves  and  fools ;  and  the  watchword, 
the  practical  intelligence  they  want,  must  be  conveyed  to  them 
without  implied  offence  to  their  candour  and  liberality,  in  the  patois 
and  gibberish  of  fraud  of  which  you  are  a  master.  When  you  begin 
to  jabber  about  common  sense  and  English,  they  know  what  to  be 
at,  shut  up  the  book,  and  wonder  that  any  respectable  publisher  can 


LETTER  TO  WILLIAM  GIFFORD.  95 

be  found  to  let  it  lie  on  his  counter,  as  much  as  if  it  were  a  Petition 
for  Reform.  .  .  .  There  is  something  in  your  nature  and  habits  that 
fits  you  for  the  situation  into  which  your  good  fortune  has  thrown 
you.  In  the  first  place,  you  are  in  no  danger  of  exciting  the  jealousy 
of  your  patrons  by  a  mortifying  display  of  extraordinary  talents, 
while  your  sordid  devotion  to  their  will  and  to  your  own  interest  at 
once  ensures  their  gratitude  and  contempt.  To  crawl  and  lick  the 
dust  is  all  they  expect  of  you,  and  all  you  can  do.  Otherwise  they 
might  fear  your  power,  for  they  could  have  no  dependence  on  your 
fidelity :  but  they  take  you  with  safety  and  with  fondness  to  their 
bosoms ;  for  they  know  that  if  you  cease  to  be  a  tool  you  cease  to 
be  anything.  If  you  had  an  exuberance  of  wit,  the  unguarded  use 
of  it  might  sometimes  glance  at  your  employers  ;  if  you  were  sincere 
yourself,  you  might  respect  the  motives  of  others ;  if  you  had  suffi- 
cient understanding,  you  might  attempt  an  argument,  and  fail  in  it. 
But  luckily  for  yourself  and  your  admirers,  you  are  but  the  dull 
echo,  "the  tenth  transmitter"  of  some  hackneyed  jest :  the  want  of 
all  manly  and  candid  feeling  in  yourself  only  excites  your  suspicion 
and  antipathy  to  it  in  others,  as  something  at  which  your  nature 
recoils ;  your  slowness  to  understand  makes  you  quick  to  misrepre- 
sent ;  and  you  infallibly  make  nonsense  of  what  you  cannot  possibly 
conceive.  What  seem  your  wilful  blunders  are  often  the  felicity  of 
natural  parts,  and  your  want  of  penetration  has  all  the  appearance 
of  an  affected  petulance ! 

Again,  of  an  humble  origin  yourself,  you  recommend  your  per- 
formances to  persons  of  fashion  by  always  abusing  low  people,  with 
the  smartness  of  a  lady's  waiting-woman  and  the  independent  spirit 
of  a  travelling  tutor.  Raised  from  the  lowest  rank  to  your  present 
despicable  eminence  in  the  world  of  letters,  you  are  indignant  that 
any  one  should  attempt  to  rise  into  notice,  except  by  the  same 
regular  trammels  and  servile  gradations,  or  should  go  about  to 
separate  the  stamp  of  merit  from  the  badge  of  sycophancy.  The 
silent  listener  in  select  circles,  and  menial  tool  of  noble  families,  you 
have  become  the  oracle  of  Church  and  State.  The  purveyor  to  the 
prejudices  or  passions  of  a  private  patron  succeeds,  by  no  other  title, 
to  regulate  the  public  taste.  You  have  felt  the  inconveniences  of 
poverty,  and  look  up  with  base  and  grovelling  admiration  to  the 
advantages  of  wealth  and  power :  you  have  had  to  contend  with 
the  mechanical  difficulties  of  a  want  of  education,  and  you  see 
nothing  in  learning  but  its  mechanical  uses.  A  self-taught  man 
naturally  becomes  a  pedant,  and  mistakes  the  means  of  knowledge 
for  the  end,  unless  he  is  a  man  of  genius ;  and  you,  Sir,  are  not  a 
man  of  genius.  From  having  known  nothing  originally,  you  think 


96          WILLIAM  HAZLITT—ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

it  a  great  acquisition  to  know  anything  now,  no  matter  what 
or  how  small  it  is — nay,  the  smaller  and  more  insignificant  it  is, 
the  more  curious  you  seem  to  think  it,  as  it  is  farther  removed 
from  common  sense  and  human  nature.  The  collating  of  points  and 
commas  is  the  highest  game  your  literary  ambition  can  reach  to,  and 
the  squabbles  of  editors  are  to  you  infinitely  more  important  than 
the  meaning  of  an  author.  You  think  more  of  the  letter  than  the 
spirit  of  a  passage,  and,  in  your  eagerness  to  show  your  minute 
superiority  over  those  who  have  gone  before  you,  generally  miss 
both.  In  comparing  yourself  with  others,  you  make  a  considerable 
mistake.  You  suppose  the  common  advantages  of  a  liberal  educa- 
tion to  be  something  peculiar  to  yourself,  and  calculate  your  progress 
beyond  the  rest  of  the  world  from  the  obscure  point  at  which  you 
first  set  out.  Yet  your  overweening  self-complacency  is  never  easy 
but  in  the  expression  of  your  contempt  for  others ;  like  a  conceited 
mechanic  in  a  village  ale-house,  you  would  set  down  every  one  who 
differs  from  you  as  an  ignorant  blockhead,  and  very  fairly  infer  that 
any  one  who  is  beneath  yourself  must  be  nothing.  You  have  been 
well  called  an  ultra-Crepidarian  critic.  From  the  difficulty  you 
yourself  have  in  constructing  a  sentence  of  common  grammar,  and 
your  frequent  failures,  you  instinctively  presume  that  no  author  who 
comes  under  the  lash  of  your  pen  can  understand  his  mother-tongue: 
and  again,  you  suspect  every  one  who  is  not  your  "very  good  friend" 
of  knowing  nothing  of  the  Greek  or  Latin,  because  you  are  surprised 
to  think  how  you  came  by  your  own  knowledge  of  them.  There  is 
an  innate  littleness  and  vulgarity  in  all  you  do.  In  combating  an 
opinion,  you  never  take  a  broad  and  liberal  ground,  state  it  fairly, 
allow  what  there  is  of  truth  or  an  appearance  of  truth,  and  then 
assert  your  own  judgment  by  exposing  what  is  deficient  in  it,  and 
giving  a  more  masterly  view  of  the  subject.  No :  this  would  be 
committing  your  powers  and  pretensions  where  you  dare  not  trust 
them.  You  know  yourself  better.  You  deny  the  meaning  alto- 
gether, misquote  or  misapply,  and  then  plume  yourself  on  your  own 
superiority  to  the  absurdity  you  have  created.  Your  triumph  over 
your  antagonists  is  the  triumph  of  your  cunning  and  mean-spirited- 
ness  over  some  nonentity  of  your  own  making ;  and  your  wary  self- 
knowledge  shrinks  from  a  comparison  with  any  but  the  most  puny 
pretensions,  as  the  spider  retreats  from  the  caterpillar  into  its  web. 

There  cannot  be  a  greater  nuisance  than  a  dull,  envious,  prag- 
matical, low-bred  man,  who  is  placed  as  you  are  in  the  situation  of 
the  Editor  of  such  a  work  as  the  Quarterly  Review.  Conscious  that 
his  reputation  stands  on  very  slender  and  narrow  grounds,  he 
is  naturally  jealous  of  that  of  others.  He  insults  unsuccessful 


LETTER  TO   WILLIAM  GIFFORD.  97 

authors :  he  hates  successful  ones.  He  is  angry  at  the  faults  of  a 
work ;  more  angry  at  its  excellences.  If  an  opinion  is  old,  he  treats 
it  with  supercilious  indifference ;  if  it  is  new,  it  provokes  his  rage. 
Everything  beyond  his  limited  range  of  inquiry  appears  to  him  a 
paradox  and  an  absurdity  ;  and  he  resents  every  suggestion  of  the 
kind  as  an  imposition  on  the  public  and  an  imputation  on  his  own 
sagacity.  He  cavils  at  what  he  does  not  comprehend,  and  misre- 
presents what  he  knows  to  be  true.  Bound  to  go  through  the 
nauseous  task  of  abusing  all  those  who  are  not,  like  himself,  the  abject 
tools  of  power,  his  irritation  increases  with  the  number  of  obstacles 
he  encounters  and  the  number  of  sacrifices  he  is  obliged  to  make  of 
common  sense  and  decency  to  his  interest  and  self-conceit.  Every 
instance  of  prevarication  he  wilfully  commits  makes  him  more  in 
love  with  hypocrisy,  and  every  indulgence  of  his  hired  malignity 
makes  him  more  disposed  to  repeat  the  insult  and  the  injury.  His 
understanding  becomes  daily  more  distorted,  and  his  feelings  more 
and  more  callous.  Grown  old  in  the  service  of  corruption,  he  drivels 
on  to  the  last  with  prostituted  impotence  and  shameless  effrontery ; 
salves  a  meagre  reputation  for  wit,  by  venting  the  driblets  of  his 
spleen  and  impertinence  on  others ;  answers  their  arguments  by 
confuting  himself;  mistakes  habitual  obtuseness  of  intellect  for  a 
particular  acuteness,  not  to  be  imposed  upon  by  shallow  appear- 
ances ;  unprincipled  rancour  for  zealous  loyalty ;  and  the  irritable, 
discontented,  vindictive,  peevish  effusions  of  bodily  pain  and  mental 
imbecility  for  proofs  of  refinement  of  taste  and  strength  of  under- 
standing. 

Such,  Sir,  is  the  picture  of  which  you  have  sat  for  the  outline : — • 
all  that  remains  is  to  fill  up  the  little,  mean,  crooked,  dirty  details. 
The  task  is  to  me  no  very  pleasant  one ;  for  I  can  feel  very  little 
ambition  to  follow  you  through  your  ordinary  routine  of  pettifogging 
objections  and  barefaced  assertions,  the  only  difficulty  of  making 
which  is  to  throw  aside  all  regard  to  truth  and  decency,  and  the 
only  difficulty  in  answering  them  is  to  overcome  one's  contempt  for 
the  writer.  But  you  are  a  nuisance,  and  should  be  abated. 


WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 


[Lectures  on  the  English  Poets,  1818.     Second  Edition  1819.     Third 
Edition  1841.     Fourth  Edition  1872.] 

I 

ON  POETRY  IN  GENERAL. 

THE  best  general  notion  which  I  can  give  of  poetry  is,  that  it  is  the 
|| natural  impression  of  any  object  or  event,  by  its  vividness  exciting 
II  an  involuntary  movement  of  imagination  and  passion,  and  pro- 
Hducing,  by  sympathy,  a  certain  modulation  of  the  voice,  or  sounds, 
(•expressing  it.  ... 

Poetry  is  the  language  of  the  imagination  and  the  passions.  It 
relates  to  whatever  gives  immediate  pleasure  or  pain  to  the  human 
mind.  It  comes  home  to  the  bosoms  and  businesses  of  men ;  for 
nothing  but  what  so  comes  home  to  them  in  the  most  general 
and  intelligible  shape  can  be  a  subject  for  poetry.  Poetry  is  the 
universal  language  which  the  heart  holds  with  nature  and  itself. 
He  who  has  a  contempt  for  poetry  cannot  have  much  respect  for 
himself,  or  for  anything  else.  It  is  not  a  mere  frivolous  accomplish- 
ment (as  some  persons  have  been  led  to  imagine),  the  trifling 
amusement  of  a  few  idle  readers  or  leisure  hours :  it  has  been  the 
study  and  delight  of  mankind  in  all  ages.  Many  people  suppose 
that  poetry  is  something  to  be  found  only  in  books,  contained  in 
lines  of  ten  syllables  with  like  endings ;  but  wherever  there  jft  a 
sense  of  beauty,  or  power,  or  harmony,  as  in  the  motion  of  a  wave 
^e  seaT  in  the  growth  of  a  flower  that  "spreads  its  sweet  lea/yes 
°  ^e  a*r?  an(^  dedicates  its  beauty  to  the  sun."  there  is  poetry,,  in 
ts  birth..  If  history  is  a  grave  study,  poetry  may  be  said  to  be  a 
graver:  its  materials  lie  deeper,  and  are  spread  wider.  History 
treats,  for  the  most  part,  of  the  cumbrous  and  unwieldy  masses  of 
things,  the  empty  cases  in  which  the  affairs  of  the  world  are  packed, 
under  the  heads  of  intrigue  or  war,  in  different  states,  and  from 
century  to  century;  but  there  is  no  thought  or  feeling  that  can 
have  entered  into  the  mind  of  man  which  he  would  be  eager  to 
communicate  to  others,  or  which  they  would  listen  to  with  delight, 
that  is  not  a  fit  subject  for  poetry.  It  is  not  a  branch  of  author- 
ship ;  it  is  "  the  stuff  of  which  our  life  is  made."  The  rest  is  "  mere 
oblivion,"  a  dead  letter :  for  all  that  is  worth  remembering  in  life 
is  the  poetry  of  it.  Fear  is  poetry,  hope  is  poetry,  love  is  poetry, 
hatred  is  poetry ;  contempt,  jealousy,  remorse,  admiration,  wonder, 
pity,  despair,  or  madness  are  all  poetry.  Poetry  is  that  fine  particle 
within  us  that  expands,  rarefies,  refines,  raises  our  whole  being: 


ON  POETRY  IN  GENERAL.  99 

without  it "  man's  life  is  poor  as  beast's."  Man  is  a  poetical  animal ; 
and  those  of  us  who  do  not  study  the  principles  of  poetry  act  upon 
them  all  our  lives,  like  Moliere's  Bourgeois  Gentilhomme,  who  had 
always  spoken  prose  without  knowing  it.  The  child  is  a  poet,  in 
fact,  when  he  first  plays  at  hide-and-seek,  or  repeats  the  story  of 
Jack  the  Giant-killer;  the  shepherd-boy  is  a  poet  when  he  first 
crowns  his  mistress  with  a  garland  of  flowers ;  the  countryman, 
when  he  stops  to  look  at  the  rainbow ;  the  city  apprentice,  when  he 
gazes  after  the  Lord  Mayor's  show ;  the  miser,  when  he  hugs  his 
gold ;  the  courtier,  who  builds  his  hopes  upon  a  smile ;  the  savage, 
who  paints  his  idol  with  blood ;  the  slave,  who  worships  a  tyrant ; 
or  the  tyrant,  who  fancies  himself  a  god ;  the  vain,  the  ambitious, 
the  proud,  the  choleric  man,  the  hero  and  the  coward,  the  beggar 
and  the  king,  the  rich  and  the  poor,  the  young  and  the  old,  all  live 
in  a  world  of  their  own  making ;  and  the  poet  does  no  more  than 
describe  what  all  the  others  think  and  act.  .  .  . 

Poetry,  then,  is  an  imitation  of  nature,  but  the  imagination  and 
the  passions  are  a  part  of  man's  nature.  We  shape  things  according 
toour  wishes  and  fancies,  without  poetry;  but  poetry  is  the  most 
emphatical  language  that  can  be  found  for  those  creations  of  the 
mind  "  which  ecstasy  is  very  cunning  in."  .  Neither  a  mere  descrip- 
tion_of  natural  objects  nor  a  mere  delineation  of  natural  feelings, 
however  distinct  or  forcible,  constitutes  the  ultimate  end  and  aim 
of  poetry.  Without  the  heightenings  of  the  imagination?)  _  The  light 
pf  poetry  is  not  only  a  direct  but  also  a  reflected  light,  that,  while 
it  shows  us  the  object,  throws  a  sparkling  radiance  on  all  around 
it:  the  flame  of  the  passions,  communicated  to  the  imagination, 
reveals  to  us,  as  with  a  flash  of  lightning,  the  inmost  recesses  of 
thought,  and  penetrates  our  whole  being.  Poetry  represents  forms 
chiefly  as  they  suggest  other  forms :  feelings,  as  they  suggest  forms 
or  other  feelings.  Poetry  puts  a  spirit  of  life  and  motion  into  the 
universe..  It  describes  the  flowing,  not  the  fixed.  It  does  not 
define  the  limits  of  sense,  or  analyse  the  distinctions  of  the  under- 
standing, but  signifies  the  excess  of  the  imagination  beyond  the 
actual  or  ordinary  impression  of  any  object  or  feeling.  The  poetical 
impression  of  any  object  is  that  uneasy,  exquisite  sense  of  beauty 
or  power  that  cannot  be  contained  within  itself,  that  is  impatient 
of  all  limit,  that  (as  flame  bends  to  flame)  strives  to  link  itself  to 
some  other  image  of  kindred  beauty  or  grandeur,  to  enshrine  itself, 
as  it  were,  in  the  highest  forms  of  fancy,  and  to  relieve  the  aching 
sense  of  pleasure  by  expressing  it  in  the  boldest  manner,  and  by 
the  most  striking  examples  of  the  same  quality  in  other  instances. 
Poetry,  according  to  Lord  Bacon,  for  this  reason  "  has  something 


loo        WILLIAM  HAZLITT- ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

divine  in  it,  because  it  raises  the  mind  and  hurries  it  into  sublimity, 
by  conforming  the  shows  of  things  to  the  desires  of  the  soul,  instead 
of  subjecting  the  soul  to  external  things,  as  reason  and  history  do." 
It  is  strictly  the  language  of  the  imagination ;  and  the  imagination 
is  that  faculty  which  represents  objects,  not  as  they  are  in  them- 
selves, but  as  they  are  moulded  by  other  thoughts  and  feelings, 
into  an  infinite  variety  of  shapes  and  combinations  of  power.  This 
language  is  not  the  less  true  to  nature  because  it  is  false  in  point 
'of  fact,  but  so  much  the  more  true  and  natural  if  it  conveys  the 
impression  which  the  object  under  the  influence  of  passion  makes 
on  the  mind.  Let  an  object,  for  instance,  be  presented  to  the 
senses  in  a  state  of  agitation  or  fear,  and  the  imagination  will 
distort  or  magnify  the  object,  and  convert  it  into  the  likeness  of 
whatever  is  most  proper  to  encourage  the  fear.  .  .  . 

One  mode  in  which  the  dramatic  exhibition  of  passion  excites  our 
sympathy  without  raising  our  disgust  is,  that  in  proportion  as  it 
sharpens  the  edge  of  calamity  and  disappointment  it  strengthens 
the  desire  of  good.  It  enhances  our  consciousness  of  the  blessing, 
by  making  us  sensible  of  the  magnitude  of  the  loss.  The  storm  of 
passion  lays  bare  and  shows  us  the  rich  depths  of  the  human  soul^ 
the  whole  of  our  existence,  the  sum-total  of  our  passions  and  pur- 
suits, of  that  which  we  desire  and  that  which  we  dread,  is  brought 
before  us  by  contrast ;  the  action  and  reaction  are  equal ;  the  keen- 
ness of  immediate  suffering  only  gives  us  a  more  intense  aspiration 
after  and  a  more  intimate  participation  with  the  antagonist  world 
of  good :  makes  us  drink  deeper  of  the  cup  of  human  life :  tugs  at 
the  heart-strings:  loosens  the  pressure  about  them,  and  calls  the 
springs  of  thought  and  feeling  into  play  with  tenfold  force.  .  .  . 

Poetry  is  in  all  its  shapes  the  language  of  the  imagination  and 
the  passions,  of  fancy  and  will.  Nothing,  therefore,  can  be  more 
absurd  than  the  outcry  which  has  been  sometimes  raised  by  frigid 
and  pedantic  critics  for  reducing  the  language  of  poetry  to  the 
standard  of  common  sense  and  reason ;  for  the  end  and  use  of 
poetry,  "both  at  the  first  and  now,  was  and  is  to  hold  the  mirror 
up  to  nature,"  seen  through  the  medium  of  passion  and  imagina- 
tion, not  divested  of  that  medium  by  means  of  literal  truth,  or 
abstract  reason.  The  painter  of  history  might  as  well  be  required 
to  represent  the  face  of  a  person  who  has  just  trod  upon  a  serpent 
with  the  still-life  expression  of  a  common  portrait,  as  the  poet  to 
describe  the  most  striking  and  vivid  impressions  which  things  can 
be  supposed  to  make  upon  the  mind  in  the  language  of  common 
conversation.  Let  who  will  strip  nature  of  the  colours  and  the 
shapes  of  fancy,  the  poet  is  not  bound  to  do  so ;  the  impressions  of 


ON  POETRY  IN  GENERAL.  101 

common  sense  and  strong  imagination,  that  is,  of  passion  and  indif- 
ference, cannot  be  the  same,  and  they  must  have  a  separate  language 
to  do  justice  to  either.  Objects  must  strike  differently  upon  the 
mind,  independently  of  what  they  are  in  themselves,  as  long  as  we 
Tiave  a  different  interest  in  them,  as  we  see  them  in  a  different  point 
of  view,  nearer  or  at  a  greater  distance  (morally  or  physically  speak- 
ing), from  novelty,  from  old  acquaintance,  from  our  ignorance  of 
them,  from  our  fear  of  their  consequences,  from  contrast,  from  un- 
expected likeness.  We  can  no  more  take  away  the  faculty  of  the| 
imagination  than  we  can  see  ail  objects  without  light  or  shade,  fl 
Some  things  must  dazzle  us  by  their  preternatural  light;  others 
must  hold  us  in  suspense,  and  tempt  our  curiosity  to  explore  their 
obscurity.  Those  who  would  dispel  these  various  illusions,  to  give 
us  their  drab-coloured  creation  in  their  stead,  are  not  very  wise. 
Let  the  naturalist,  if  he  will,  catch  the  glow-worm,  carry  it  home 
with  him  in  a  box,  and  find  it  next  morning  nothing  but  a  little 
grey  worm :  let  the  poet  or  the  lover  of  poetry  visit  it  at  evening, 
when  beneath  the  scented  hawthorn  and  the  crescent  moon  it 
has  built  itself  a  palace  of  emerald  light.  This  is  also  one  part  of 
nature,  one  appearance  which  the  glow-worm  presents,  and  that  not 
the  least  interesting;  so  poetry  is  one  part  of  the  history  of  the 
human  mind,  though  it  is  neither  science  nor  philosophy.  It  cannot" 
be  concealed,  however,  that  the  progress  of  knowledge  and  refine- 
ment has  a  tendency  to  circumscribe  the  limits  of  the  imagination 
and  to  clip  the  wings  of  poetry.  The  province  of  the  imagination 
is  principally  visionary,  the  unknown  and  undefined:  the  under- 
standing restores  things  to  their  natural  boundaries,  and  strips 
them  of  their  fanciful  pretensions.  .  .  . 

Wherever  any  object  takes  such  a  hold  of  the  mind  as  to  make  us 
dwell  upon  it  and  brood  over  it,  melting  the  heart  in  tenderness,  or 
kindling  it  to  a  sentiment  of  enthusiasm ;  wherever  a  movement  of 
imagination  or  passion  is  impressed  on  the  mind,  by  which  it  seeks 
to  prolong  and  repeat  the  emotion,  to  bring  all  other  objects  into 
accord  with  it,  and  to  give  the  same  movement  of  harmony,  sustained 
and  continuous,  or  gradually  varied,  according  to  the  occasion,  to  the 
sounds  that  express  it — this  is  poetry.  The  musical  hi  sound  is  the*" 
sustained  and  continuous ;  the  musical  in  thought  is  the  sustained 
and  continuous  also.  There  is  a  near  connection  between  music  and 
deep-rooted  passion.  Mad  people  sing.  As  often  as  articulation 
passes  naturally  into  intonation,  there  poetry  begins.  Where  one 
idea  gives  a  tone  and  colour  to  others,  where  one  feeling  melts 
others  into  it,  there  can  be  no  reason  why  the  same  principle  should 
not  be  extended  to  the  sounds  by  which  the  voice  utters  these 


102         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

emotions  of  the  soul,  and  blends  syllables  and  lines  into  each  other. 
It  is  to  supply  the  inherent  defect  of  harmony  in  the  customary 
mechanism  of  language,  to  make  the  sound  an  echo  to  the  sense, 
when  the  sense  becomes  a  sort  of  echo  to  itself — to  mingle  the  tide 
of  verse,  "  the  golden  cadences  of  poetry,"  with  the  tide  of  feeling, 
flowing  and  murmuring  as  it  flows — in  short,  to  take  the  language 
of  the  imagination  from  off  the  ground,  and  enable  it  to  spread  its 
wings  where  it  may  indulge  its  own  impulses  : 

"  Sailing  with  supreme  dominion 
Through  the  azure  deep  of  air  " — 

without  being  stopped,  or  fretted,  or  diverted  with  the  abruptnesses 
and  petty  obstacles,  and  discordant  flats  and  sharps  of  prose,  that 
poetry  was  invented.  It  is  to  common  language  what  springs  are 
to  a  carriage  or  wings  to  feet.  .  .  . 

I  will  mention  three  works  which  come  as  near  to  poetry  as  pos- 
sible without  absolutely  being  so ;  namely,  the  "Pilgrim's  Pro- 
gress," "Robinson  Crusoe,"  and  the  TalFfi  nf  y>nppi).p.cio  Chaucer  and 
Dryden  have  translated  some  of  the  last  into  English  rhyme,  but  the 
essence  and  the  power  of  poetry  was  there  before.  That  which  lifts 
the  spirit  above  the  earth,  which  draws  the  soul  out  of  itself  with 
indescribable  longings,  is  poetry  in  kind,  and  generally  fit  to  become 
so  in  name,  by  being  "  married  to  immortal  verse."  If  it  is  of  the 
essence  of  poetry  to  strike  and  fix  the  imagination,  whether  we  will 
or  no,  to  make  the  eye  of  childhood  glisten  with  the  starting  tear,  to 
be  never  thought  of  afterwards  with  indifference,  John  Bunyan  and 
Daniel  Defoe  may  be  permitted  to  pass  for  poets  in  their  way.  The 
mixture  of  fancy  and  reality  in  the  "  Pilgrim's  Progress  "  was  never 
equalled  in  any  allegory.  His  pilgrims  walk  above  the  earth,  and 
yet  are  on  it.  What  zeal,  what  beauty,  what  truth  of  fiction ! 
What  deep  feeling  in  the  description  of  Christian's  swimming  across 
the  water  at  last,  and  in  the  picture  of  the  Shining  Ones  within 
the  gates,  with  wings  at  their  backs  and  garlands  on  their  heads, 
who  are  to  wipe  all  tears  from  his  eyes !  The  writer's  genius,  though 
not  "  dipped  in  dews  of  Castalie,"  was  baptized  with  the  Holy  Spirit 
and  with  fire.  The  prints  in  this  book  are  no  small  part  of  it.  If 
the  confinement  of  Philoctetes  in  the  island  of  Lemnos  was  a  subject 
for  the  most  beautiful  of  all  the  Greek  tragedies,  what  shall  we 
say  to  Robinson  Crusoe  in  his  ?  Take  the  speech  of  the  Greek  hero 
on  leaving  his  cave,  beautiful  as  it  is,  and  compare  it  with  the 
reflections  of  the  English  adventurer  in  his  solitary  place  of  confine- 
ment. The  thoughts  of  home,  and  of  all  from  which  he  is  for  ever 
cut  off,  swell  and  press  against  his  bosom,  as  the  heaving  ocean  rolls 


ON  POETRY  IN  GENERAL.  103 

its  ceaseless  tide  against  the  rocky  shore,  and  the  very  beatings  of 
his  heart  become  audible  in  the  eternal  silence  that  surrounds  him. 
Thus  he  says : 

"As  I  walked  about,  either  in  my  hunting,  or  for  viewing  the 
country,  the  anguish  of  my  soul  at  my  condition  would  break  out 
upon  me  on  a  sudden,  and  my  very  heart  would  die  within  me  to 
think  of  the  woods,  the  mountains,  and  deserts  I  was  in ;  and  how 
I  was  a  prisoner,  locked  up  with  the  eternal  bars  and  bolts  of  the 
ocean,  in  an  uninhabited  wilderness,  without  redemption.  In  the 
midst  of  the  greatest  composures  of  my  mind,  this  would  break  out 
upon  me  like  a  storm,  and  make  me  wring  my  hands,  and  weep  like 
a  child.  Sometimes  it  would  take  me  in  the  middle  of  my  work, 
and  I  would  immediately  sit  down  and  sigh,  and  look  upon  the 
ground  for  an  hour  or  two  together,  and  this  was  still  worse  to  me, 
for  if  I  could  burst  into  tears  or  vent  myself  in  words,  it  would  go 
off,  and  the  grief  having  exhausted  itself  would  abate." 

...  I  shall  conclude  this  general  account  with  some  remarks  on 
four  of  the  principal  works  of  poetry  in  the  world,  at  different  periods 
of  history — Homer,  the  Bible.  Dante,  and,  let  me  add.  Ossian.  In 
Homer,  the  principle  of  action  or  life  is  predominant ;  in  the  -BipTe". 
the  prinqplft  "f  faitiv  an^  the  idea  of  Providence;  Dante  is  a  per- 
sonification of  blind  will ;  and  in  Ossian  we  see  the  decay  of  life  and 
the  lag-end  ot  the  world  Homer's  poetry  is  the  heroic :  it  is  full" 
of  life  and  action ;  it  is  bright  as  the  day,  strong  as  a  river.  In  the 
vigour  of  his  intellect,  he  grapples  with  all  the  objects  of  nature, 
and  enters  into  all  the  relations  of  social  life.  He  saw  many 
countries,  and  the  manners  of  many  men ;  and  he  has  brought 
them  all  together  in  his  poem.  He  describes  his  heroes  going  to 
battle  with  a  prodigality  of  life,  arising  from  an  exuberance  of 
animal  spirits ;  we  see  them  before  us,  their  number  and  their  order 
of  battle,  poured  out  upon  the  plain  ''  all  plumed  like  ostriches,  like 
eagles  newly  bathed,  wanton  as  goats,  wild  as  young  bulls,  youthful 
as  May,  and  gorgeous  as  the  sun  at  midsummer,"  covered  with 
glittering  armour,  with  dust  and  blood ;  while  the  gods  quaff  their 
nectar  in  golden  cups  or  mingle  in  the  fray;  and  the  old  men 
assembled  on  the  walls  of  Troy  rise  up  with  reverence  as  Helen 
passes  by  them.  The  multitude  of  things  in  Homer  is  wonderful ; 
their  splendour,  their  truth,  their  force  and  variety.  His  poetry  is, 
like  his  religion,  the  poetry  of  number  and  form :  he  describes  the 
bodies  as  well  as  the  souls  of  men. 

The  poetry  of  the  Bible  is  that  of  imagination  and  of  faith :  it 
is  abstract  and  disembodied :  it  is  not  the  poetry  of  form,  but  of 
power;  not  of  multitude,  but  of  immensity.  It  does  not  divide 


104        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

into  many,  but  aggrandises  into  one.  Its  ideas  of  nature  are  like 
its  ideas  of  God.  It  is  not  the  poetry  of  social  life,  but  of  solitude : 
each  man  seems  alone  in  the  world,  with  the  original  forms  of  nature, 
the  rocks,  the  earth,  and  the  sky.  It  is  not  the  poetry  of  action  or 
heroic  enterprise,  but  of  faith  in  a  supreme  Providence  and  resigna- 
tion to  the  power  that  governs  the  universe.  As  the  idea  of  God 
was  removed  farther  from  humanity  and  a  scattered  polytheism,  it 
became  more  profound  and  intense,  as  it  became  more  universal,  for 
the  Infinite  is  present  to  everything :  "  If  we  fly  into  the  uttermost 
parts  of  the  earth,  it  is  there  also ;  if  we  turn  to  the  east  or  the 
west,  we  cannot  escape  from  it."  Man  is  thus  aggrandised  in  the 
image  of  his  Maker.  The  history  of  the  patriarchs  is  of  this  kind ; 
they  are  founders  of  a  chosen  race  of  people,  the  inheritors  of  the 
earth ;  they  exist  in  the  generations  which  are  to  come  after  them. 
Their  poetry,  like  their  religious  creed,  is  vast,  unformed,  obscure,  and 
infinite ;  a  vision  is  upon  it ;  an  invisible  hand  is  suspended  over  it. 
The  spirit  of  the  Christian  religion  consists  in  the  glory  hereafter  to 
be  revealed ;  but  in  the  Hebrew  dispensation  Providence  took  an  im- 
mediate share  in  the  affairs  of  this  life.  Jacob's  dream  arose  out  of 
this  intimate  communion  between  heaven  and  earth :  it  was  this 
that  let  down,  in  the  sight  of  the  youthful  patriarch,  a  golden 
ladder  from  the  sky  to  the  earth,  with  angels  ascending  and  de- 
scending upon  it,  and  shed  a  light  upon  the  lonely  place,  which 
can  never  pass  away.  The  story  of  Ruth,  again,  is  as  if  all  the  depth 
of  natural  affection  in  the  human  race  was  involved  in  her  breast. 
There  are  descriptions  in  the  Book  of  Job  more  prodigal  of  imagery, 
more  intense  in  passion,  than  anything  in  Homer ;  as  that  of  the 
state  of  his  prosperity,  and  of  the  vision  that  came  upon  him  by 
night.  The  metaphors  in  the  Old  Testament  are  more  boldly  figura- 
tive. Things  were  collected  more  into  masses,  and  gave  a  greater 
momentum  to  the  imagination. 

I  Dante  was  the  father  of  modern  poetry,  and  he  may  therefore 
claim  a  place  in  this  connection.  His  poem  is  the  first  great  step 
from  Gothic  darkness  and  barbarism ;  and  the  struggle  of  thought 
in  it  to  burst  the  thraldom  in  which  the  human  mind  had  been  so 
long  held  is  felt  in  every  page.  He  stood  bewildered,  not  appalled 
on  that  dark  shore  which  separates  the  ancient  and  the  modern 
world,  and  saw  the  glories  of  antiquity  dawning  through  the  abyss 
of  time,  while  revelation  opened  its  passage  to  the  other  world.  He 
was  lost  in  wonder  at  what  had  been  done  before  him,  and  he  dared 
to  emulate  it.  Dante  seems  to  have  been  indebted  to  the  Bible  for 
the  gloomy  tone  of  his  mind,  as  well  as  for  the  prophetic  fury  which 
exalts  and  kindles  his  poetry ;  but  he  is  utterly  unlike  Homer.  His 


ON  POETRY  IN  GENERAL.  105 

genius  is  not  a  sparkling  flame,  but  the  sullen  heat  of  a  furnace. 
He  is  power,  passion,  self-will  personified.  In  all  that  relates  to  the 
descriptive  or  fanciful  part  of  poetry,  he  bears  no  comparison  to 
many  who  had  gone  before,  or  who  have  come  after  him ;  but  there 
is  a  gloomy  abstraction  in  his  conceptions,  which  lies  like  a  dead 
weight  upon  the  mind — a  benumbing  stupor,  a  breathless  awe,  from 
the  intensity  of  the  impression — a  terrible  obscurity,  like  that  which 
oppresses  us  in  dreams — an  identity  of  interest,  which  moulds  every 
object  to  its  own  purposes,  and  clothes  all  things  with  the  passions 
and  imaginations  of  the  human  soul — that  make  amends  for  all 
other  deficiencies.  The  immediate  objects  he  presents  to  the  mind 
are  not  much  in  themselves  ;  they  want  grandeur,  beauty,  and  order ; 
but  they  become  everything  by  the  force  of  the  character  he  impresses 
upon  them.  His  mind  lends  its  own  power  to  the  objects  which  it 
contemplates,  instead  of  borrowing  it  from  them.  He  takes  advan- 
tage even  of  the  nakedness  and  dreary  vacuity  of  his  subject.  His 
imagination  peoples  the  shades  of  death,  and  broods  over  the  silent 
air.  He  is  the  severest  of  all  writers,  the  most  hard  and  impene- 
trable, the  most  opposite  to  the  flowery  and  glittering ;  [the  writer] 
who  relies  most  on  his  own  power,  and  the  sense  of  it  in  others,  and 
who  leaves  most  room  to  the  imagination  of  his  readers.  Dante's 
only  endeavour  is  to  interest ;  and  he  interests  by  exciting  our 
sympathy  with  the  emotion  by  which  he  is  himself  possessed.  He 
does  not  place  before  us  the  objects  by  which  that  emotion  has  been 
created ;  but  he  seizes  on  the  attention,  by  showing  us  the  effect 
they  produce  on  his  feelings ;  and  his  poetry  accordingly  gives  the 
same  thrilling  and  overwhelming  sensation  which  is  caught  by  gazing 
on  the  face  of  a  person  who  has  seen  some  object  of  horror.  The 
improbability  of  the  events,  the  abruptness  and  monotony  in  the 
"  Inferno  "  are  excessive ;  but  the  interest  never  flags,  from  the  con- 
tinued earnestness  of  the  author's  mind.  Dante's  great  power  is  in 
combining  internal  feelings  with  external  objects.  .  .  . 

Another  writer  whom  I  shall  mention  last,  and  whom  I  cannot 
persuade  myself  to  think  a  mere  modern  in  the  groundwork, 
is  Ossian.  He  is  a  feeling  and  a  name  that  can  never  be 
destroyed  in  the  minds  of  his  readers.  As  Homer  is  the  first 
vigour  and  lustihead,  Ossian  is  the  decay  and  old  age  of  poetry.  He 
lives  only  in  the  recollection  and  regret  of  the  past.  There  is  one 
impression  which  he  conveys  more  entirely  than  all  other  poets; 
namely,  the  sense  of  privation,  the  loss  of  all  things,  of  friends,  of 
good  name,  of  country ;  he  is  even  without  God  in  the  world.  He 
converses  only  with  the  spirits  of  the  departed ;  with  the  motionless 
and  silent  clouds.  The  cold  moonlight  sheds  its  faint  lustre  on  his 


106        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

head ;  the  fox  peeps  out  of  the  ruined  tower  ;  the  thistle  waves  its 
beard  to  the  wandering  gale ;  and  the  strings  of  his  harp  seem,  as 
the  hand  of  age,  as  the  tale  of  other  times,  passes  over  them,  to 
sigh  and  rustle  like  the  dry  reeds  in  the  winter's  wind !  The  feeling 
of  cheerless  desolation,  of  the  loss  of  the  pith  and  sap  of  existence, 
of  the  annihilation  of  the  substance,  and  the  clinging  to  the  shadow 
of  all  things,  as  in  a  mock-embrace,  is  here  perfect.  In  this  way, 
the  lamentation  of  Selma  for  the  loss  of  Salgar  is  the  finest  of  all. 
If  it  were  indeed  possible  to  show  that  this  writer  was  nothing,  it 
would  only  be  another  instance  of  mutability,  another  blank  made, 
another  void  left  in  the  heart,  another  confirmation  of  that  feeling 
which  makes  him  so  often  complain,  "  Roll  on,  ye  dark  brown  years, 
ye  bring  no  joy  on  your  wing  to  Ossian  !  " 


CHAUCER  AND  SPENSER. 

CHAUCER  (who  has  been  very  properly  considered  as  the  father  of 
English  poetry)  preceded  Spenser  by  two  centuries.  He  is  supposed 
to  have  been  born  in  London,  in  the  year  1328,  during  the  reign  of 
Edward  III.,  and  to  have  died  in  1400,  at  the  age  of  seventy-two. 
He  received  a  learned  education  at  one  or  at  both  of  the  Universi- 
ties, and  travelled  early  into  Italy,  where  he  became  thoroughly 
imbued  with  the  spirit  and  excellences  of  the  great  Italian  poets 
and  prose-writers,  Dante,  Petrarch,  and  Boccaccio,  and  is  said  to 
have  had  a  personal  interview  with  one  of  these,  Petrarch.  He  was 
connected  by  marriage  with  the  famous  John  of  Gaunt,  through 
whose  interest  he  was  introduced  into  several  public  employments. 
Chaucer  was  an  active  partisan,  a  religious  reformer,  and  from  the 
share  he  took  in  some  disturbances  on  one  occasion,  he  was  obliged 
to  fly  the  country.  On  his  return  he  was  imprisoned,  and  made  his 
peace  with  Government,  as  it  is  said,  by  a  discovery  of  his  associates. 
Fortitude  does  not  appear  at  any  time  to  have  been  the  distinguish- 
ing virtue  of  poets.  There  is,  however,  an  obvious  similarity  between 
the  practical  turn  of  Chaucer's  mind  and  restless  impatience  of  his 
character  and  the  tone  of  his  writings.  Yet  it  would  be  too  much 
to  attribute  the  one  to  the  other  as  cause  and  effect ;  for  Spenser, 
whose  poetical  temperament  was  as  effeminate  as  Chaucer's  was 
stern  and  masculine,  was  equally  engaged  in  public  affairs,  and  had 
mixed  equally  in  the  great  world.  So  much  does  native  disposition 
predominate  over  accidental  circumstances,  moulding  them  to  its 
previous  bent  and  purposes !  For  while  Chaucer's  intercourse  with 
the  busy  world,  and  collision  with  the  actual  passions  and  conflicting 


CHAUCER  AND  SPENSEX.  107 

interest  of  others,  seemed  to  brace  the  sinews  of  his  understanding, 
and  gave  to  his  writings  the  air  of  a  man  who  describes  persons  and 
things  that  he  had  known  and  been  intimately  concerned  in,  the 
same  opportunities,  operating  on  a  differently  constituted  frame, 
only  served  to  alienate  Spenser's  mind  the  more  from  the  "  close- 
pent-up  "  scenes  of  ordinary  life,  and  to  make  him  "  rive  their  con- 
cealing continents,"  to  give  himself  up  to  the  unrestrained  indulgence 
of  "  flowery  tenderness." 

It  is  not  possible  for  any  two  writers  to  be  more  opposite  in  this 
respect.  Spenser  delighted  in  luxurious  enjoyment;  Chaucer,  in 
severe  activity  of  mind.  As  Spenser  was  the  most  romantic  and 
visionary,  Chaucer  was  the  most  practical  of  all  the  great  poets,  the 
most  a  man  of  business  and  the  world.  His  poetry  reads  like  his- 
tory. Everything  has  a  downright  reality,  at  least -in  the  relater's 
mind.  A  simile  or  a  sentiment  is  as  if  it  were  given  in  upon 
evidence.  .  .  . 

He  speaks  of  what  he  wishes  to  describe  with  the  accuracy,  the 
discrimination  of  one  who  relates  what  has  happened  to  himself,  or 
has  had  the  best  information  from  those  who  have  been  eye-  witnesses 
of  it.  The  strokes  of  his  pencil  always  tell.  He  dwells  only  on  the 
essential,  on  that  which  would  be  interesting  to  the  persons  really 
concerned  :  yet,  as  he  never  omits  any  material  circumstance,  he  is 
prolix  from  the  number  of  points  on  which  he  touches,  without 
being  diffuse  on  any  one ;  and  is  sometimes  tedious  from  the  fidelity 
with  which  he  adheres  to  his  subject,  as  other  writers  are  from  the 
frequency  of  their  digressions  from  it.  The  chain  of  his  story  is 
composed  of  a  number  of  fine  links,  closely  connected  together,  and 
riveted  by  a  single  blow.  There  is  an  instance  of  the  minuteness 
which  he  introduces  into  his  most  serious  descriptions  in  his  account 
of  Palamon  when  left  alone  in  his  cell : 

"  Swiche  sorrow  he  maketh  that  the  grete  tour 
Eesouned  of  his  yelling  and  clamour : 
The  pure  fetters  on  his  shinnes  grete 
Were  of  his  bitter  salte  teres  wete." 

The  mention  of  this  last  circumstance  looks  like  a  part  of  the  in- 
structions he  had  to  follow,  which  he  had  no  discretionary  power 
to  leave  out  or  introduce  at  pleasure.  He  is  contented  to  find  grace 
and  beauty  in  truth.  He  exhibits  for  the  most  part  the  naked 
object,  with  little  drapery  thrown  over  it.  His  metaphors,  which 
are  few,  are  not  for  ornament  but  use,  and  as  like  as  possible  to  the 
things  themselves.  He  does  not  affect  to  show  his  power  over  the 
reader's  mind,  but  the  power  which  his  subject  has  over  his  own. 


io8         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

The  readers  of  Chaucer's  poetry  feel  more  nearly  what  the  persons 
he  describes  must  have  felt  than  perhaps  those  of  any  other  poet. 
His  sentiments  are  not  voluntary  effusions  of  the  poet's  fancy,  but 
[are]  founded  on  the  natural  impulses  and  habitual  prejudices  of 
the  characters  he  has  to  represent.  There  is  an  inveteracy  of  pur- 
pose, a  sincerity  of  feeling,  which  never  relaxes  or  grows  vapid,  in 
whatever  they  do  or  say.  There  is  no  artificial,  pompous  display, 
but  a  strict  parsimony  of  the  poet's  materials,  like  the  rude  simplicity 
of  the  age  in  which  he  lived.  His  poetry  resembles  the  root  just 
springing  from  the  ground,  rather  than  the  full-blown  flower.  His 
muse  is  no  "  babbling  gossip  of  the  air,"  fluent  and  redundant,  but, 
like  a  stammerer  or  a  dumb  person,  that  has  just  found  the  use  of 
speech,  crowds  many  things  together  with  eager  haste,  with  anxious 
pauses,  and  fond  repetitions  to  prevent  mistake.  His  words  point 
as  an  index  to  the  objects,  like  the  eye  or  finger.  There  were  none 
of  the  commonplaces  of  poetic  diction  in  our  author's  time,  no 
reflected  lights  of  fancy,  no  borrowed  roseate  tints  ;  he  was  obliged 
to  inspect  things  for  himself,  to  look  narrowly,  and  almost  to  handle 
the  object,  as  in  the  obscurity  of  morning  we  partly  see  and  partly 
grope  our  way ;  so  that  his  descriptions  have  a  sort  of  tangible 
character  belonging  to  them,  and  produce  the  effect  of  sculpture  on 
the  mind.  Chaucer  had  an  equal  eye  for  truth  of  nature  and  dis- 
crimination of  character ;  and  his  interest  in  what  he  saw  gave  new 
distinctness  and  force  to  his  power  of  observation.  The  picturesque 
and  the  dramatic  are  in  him  closely  blended  together,  and  hardly 
distinguishable;  for  he  principally  describes  external  appearances 
as  indicating  character,  as  symbols  of  internal  sentiment.  There 
is  a  meaning  in  what  he  sees ;  and  it  is  this  which  catches  his  eye  by 
sympathy.  Thus  the  costume  and  dress  of  the  Canterbury  Pilgrims, 
of  the  Knight,  the  Squire,  the  Oxford  Scholar,  the  Gap-toothed 
Wife  of  Bath,  and  the  rest  speak  for  themselves.  .  .  . 

Chaucer's  descriptions  of  natural  scenery  possess  the  same  sort 
of  characteristic  excellence,  or  what  might  be  termed  gusto.  They 
have  a  local  truth  and  freshness,  which  gives  the  very  feeling  of  the 
air,  the  coolness  or  moisture  of  the  ground.  Inanimate  objects  are 
thus  made  to  have  a  fellow-feeling  in  the  interest  of  the  story,  and 
render  back  the  sentiment  of  the  speaker's  mind.  One  of  the  finest 
parts  of  Chaucer  is  of  this  mixed  kind.  It  is  the  beginning  of  the 
"  Flower  and  the  Leaf,"  where  he  describes  the  delight  of  that  young 
beauty,  shrouded  in  her  bower,  and  listening,  in  the  morning  of  the 
year,  to  the  singing  of  the  nightingale  ;  while  her  joy  rises  with  the 
rising  song,  and  gushes  out  afresh  at  every  pause,  and  is  borne 
along  with  the  full  tide  of  pleasure,  and  still  increases,  and  repeats, 


CHAUCER  AND  SPENSER.  109 

and  prolongs  itself,  and  knows  no  ebb.  The  coolness  of  the  arbour, 
its  retirement,  the  early  time  of  the  day,  the  sudden  starting  up 
of  the  birds  in  the  neighbouring  bushes,  the  eager  delight  with 
which  they  devour  and  rend  the  opening  buds  and  flowers,  are  ex- 
pressed with  a  truth  and  feeling  which  make  the  whole  appear  like 
the  recollection  of  an  actual  scene.  .  .  . 

The  interval  between  Chaucer  and  Spenser  is  long  and  dreary. 
There  is  nothing  to  fill  up  the  chasm  but  the  names  of  Occleve, 
"  ancient  Gower,"  Lydgate,  Wyatt,  Surrey,  and  Sackville.  Spenser 
flourished  in  the  reign  of  Queen  Elizabeth,  and  was  sent  with  Sir 
John  Davies  into  Ireland,  of  which  he  has  left  behind  him  some 
tender  recollections  in  his  description  of  the  bog  of  Allan,  and  a 
record  in  an  ably  written  paper,  containing  observations  on  the  state 
of  that  country  and  the  means  of  improving  it,  which  remain  in 
full  force  to  the  present  day.  Spenser  died  at  an  obscure  inn  in 
London,  it  is  supposed  in  distressed  circumstances.  The  treat- 
ment he  received  from  Burleigh  is  well  known.  Spenser,  as  well  as 
Chaucer,  was  engaged  in  active  life ;  but  the  genius  of  his  poetry 
was  not  active ;  it  is  inspired  by  the  love  of  ease  and  the  relaxation 
from  all  the  cares  and  business  of  life.  Of  all  the  poets,  he  is  the 
most  poetical.  Though  much  later  than  Chaucer,  his  obligations 
to  preceding  writers  were  less.  He  has  in  some  measure  borrowed 
the  plan  of  his  poem  (as  a  number  of  distinct  narratives)  from 
Ariosto ;  but  he  has  engrafted  upon  it  an  exuberance  of  fancy  and 
an  endless  voluptuousness  of  sentiment  which  are  not  to  be  found 
in  the  Italian  writer.  Further,  Spenser  is  even  more  of  an  inventor 
in  the  subject-matter.  There  is  an  originality,  richness,  and  variety 
in  his  allegorical  personages  and  fictions  which  almost  vies  with 
tne  splendour  of  the  ancient  mythology.  If  Ariosto  transports  us 
into  the  regions  of  romance,  Spenser's  poetry  is  all  fairy-land.  In 
Ariosto,  we  walk  upon  the  ground,  in  a  company  gay,  fantastic, 
and  adventurous  enough.  In  Spenser,  we  wander  in  another  world 
among  ideal  beings.  The  poet  takes  and  lays  us  in  the  lap  of  a 
lovelier  nature,  by  the  sound  of  softer  streams,  among  greener  hills 
and  fairer  valleys.  He  paints  nature,  not  as  we  find  it,  but  as  we 
expected  to  find  it,  and  fulfils  the  delightful  promise  of  our  youth. 
He  waves  his  wand  of  enchantment,  and  at  once  embodies  airy 
beings,  and  throws  a  delicious  veil  over  all  actual  objects.  The  two 
worlds  of  reality  and  of  fiction  are  poised  on  the  wings  of  his 
imagination.  His  ideas,  indeed,  seem  more  distinct  than  his  per- 
ceptions. He  is  the  painter  of  abstractions,  and  describes  them 
with  dazzling  minuteness.  .  .  . 

The  language  of  Spenser  is  full  and  copious  to  overflowing :  it  is 


no         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

less  pure  and  idiomatic  than  Chaucer's,  and  is  enriched  and  adorned 
with  phrases  borrowed  from  the  different  languages  of  Europe,  both 
ancient  and  modern.  He  was,  probably,  seduced  into  a  certain 
license  of  expression  by  the  difficulty  of  filling  up  the  moulds  of  his 
complicated  rhymed  stanza  from  the  limited  resources  of  his  native 
language.  This  stanza,  with  alternate  and  repeatedly  recurring 
rhymes,  is  borrowed  from  the  Italians.  It  was  peculiarly  fitted  to 
their  language,  which  abounds  in  similar  vowel  terminations,  and  is 
as  little  adapted  to  ours,  from  the  stubborn,  unaccommodating  re- 
sistance which  the  consonant  endings  of  the  northern  languages 
make  to  this  sort  of  endless  sing-song.  Not  that  I  would,  on  that 
account,  part  with  the  stanza  of  Spenser.  We  are,  perhaps,  in- 
debted to  this  very  necessity  of  finding  out  new  forms  of  expression, 
and  to  the  occasional  faults  to  which  it  led,  for  a  poetical  language 
rich  and  varied  and  magnificent  beyond  all  former,  and  almost  all 
later,  example.  His  versification  is  at  once  the  most  smooth  and 
the  most  sounding  in  the  language.  It  is  a  labyrinth  of  sweet 
sounds,  "  in  many  a  winding  bout  of  linked  sweetness  long  drawn 
out,"  that  would  cloy  by  their  very  sweetness,  but  that  the  ear  is 
constantly  relieved  and  enchanted  by  their  continued  variety  of 
modulation,  dwelling  on  the  pauses  of  the  action,  or  flowing  on  in  a 
fuller  tide  of  harmony  with  the  movement  of  the  sentiment.  It  has 
not  the  bold  dramatic  transitions  of  Shakspeare's  blank  verse,  nor 
the  high-raised  tone  of  Milton's ;  but  it  is  the  perfection  of  melting 
harmony,  dissolving  the  soul  in  pleasure,  or  holding  it  captive  in  the 
chains  of  suspense.  Spenser  was  the  poet  of  our  waking  dreams ; 
and  he  has  invented  not  only  a  language,  but  a  music  of  his  own  for 
them.  The  undulations  are  infinite,  like  those  of  the  waves  of  the 
sea ;  but  the  effect  is  still  the  same,  lulling  the  senses  into  a  deep 
oblivion  of  the  jarring  noises  of  the  world,  from  which  we  have  no 
wish  to  be  over  recalled. 

SHAKSPEARE  AND  MILTON. 

IN  looking  back  to  the  great  works  of  genius  in  former  times,  we 
are  sometimes  disposed  to  wonder  at  the  little  progress  which  has 
since  been  made  in  poetry,  and  in  the  arts  of  imitation  in  general. 
But  this  is  perhaps  a  foolish  wonder.  Nothing  can  be  more  con- 
trary to  the  fact  than  the  supposition  that  in  what  we  understand 
by  the  fine  arts  as  painting  and  poetry,  relative  perfection  is  only 
the  result  of  repeated  efforts  in  successive  periods,  and  that  what 
has  been  once  well  done  constantly  leads  to  something  better. 
What  is  mechanical,  reducible  to  rule,  or  capable  of  demonstration, 


SHAKSPEARE  AND  MILTON.  ill 

is  progressive,  and  admits  of  gradual  improvement:  what  is  not 
mechanical,  or  definite,  but  depends  on  feeling,  taste,  and  genius, 
very  soon  becomes  stationary  or  retrograde,  and  loses  more  than  it 
gains  by  transfusion.  The  contrary  opinion  is  a  vulgar  error  which 
has  grown  up,  like  many  others,  from  transferring  an  analogy  of 
one  kind  to  something  quite  distinct,  without  taking  into  account 
the  difference  in  the  nature  of  the  things  or  attending  to  the  dif- 
ference of  the  results.  For  most  persons,  finding  what  wonderful 
advances  have  been  made  in  Biblical  criticism,  in  chemistry,  in 
mechanics,  in  geometry,  astronomy,  &c.,  i.e.,  in  things  depending  on 
mere  inquiry  and  experiment  or  on  absolute  demonstration,  have 
been  led  hastily  to  conclude  that  there  was  a  general  tendency  in 
the  efforts  of  the  human  intellect  to  improve  by  repetition,  and,  in 
all  other  arts  and  institutions,  to  grow  perfect  and  mature  by  time. 
We  look  back  upon  the  theological  creed  of  our  ancestors,  and  their 
discoveries  in  natural  philosophy,  with  a  smile  of  pity :  science,  and 
the  arts  connected  with  it,  have  all  had  their  infancy,  their  youth 
and  manhood,  and  seem  to  contain  in  them  no  principle  of  limita- 
tion or  decay ;  and,  inquiring  no  further  about  the  matter,  we  infer, 
in  the  intoxication  of  our  pride  and  the  height  of  our  self-congratu- 
lation, that  the  same  progress  has  been  made,  and  will  continue  to 
be  made,  in  all  other  things  which  are  the  work  of  man.  The  fact, 
however,  stares  us  so  plainly  in  the  face,  that  one  would  think  the 
smallest  reflection  must  suggest  the  truth,  and  overturn  our  sanguine 
theories.  The  greatest  poets,  the  ablest  orators,  the  best  painters, 
and  the  finest  sculptors  that  the  world  ever  saw  appeared  soon  after 
the  birth  of  these  arts,  and  lived  in  a  state  of  society  which  was,  in 
other  respects,  comparatively  barbarous.  Those  arts,  which  depend 
on  individual  genius  and  incommunicable  power,  have  always  leaped 
at  once  from  infancy  to  manhood,  from  the  first  rude  dawn  of  in- 
vention to  their  meridian  height  and  dazzling  lustre,  and  have  in 
general  declined  ever  after.  This  is  the  peculiar  distinction  and 
privilege  of  each,  of  science  and  of  art :  of  the  one,  never  to  attain 
its  utmost  limit  of  perfection ;  and  of  the  other,  to  arrive  at  it 
almost  at  once.  Homer,  Chaucer,  Spenser,  Shakspeare,  Dante,  and 
Ariosto  (Milton  alone  was  of  a  later  age,  and  not  the  worse  for  it)  : 
Raphael,  Titian,  Michael  Angelo,  Correggio,  Cervantes,  and  Boc- 
caccio :  the  Greek  sculptors  and  tragedians :  all  lived  near  the  be- 
ginning of  their  arts,  perfected,  and  all  but  created  them.  These 
giant-sons  of  genius  stand  indeed  upon  the  earth,  but  they  tower 
above  their  fellows;  and  the  long  line  of  their  successors,  in  dif- 
ferent ages,  does  not  interpose  any  object  to  obstruct  their  view  or 
lessen  their  brightness.  In  strength  and  stature  they  are  unrivalled; 

M 


112         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

in  grace  and  beauty  they  have  not  been  surpassed.  In  after-ages 
and  more  refined  periods  (as  they  are  called)  great  men  have  ariser, 
one  by  one,  as  it  were  by  throes  and  at  intervals ;  though  in  general 
the  best  of  these  cultivated  and  artificial  minds  were  of  an  inferior 
order,  as  Tasso  and  Pope  among  poets ;  Guido  and  Vandyke  among 
painters.  But  in  the  earlier  stages  of  the  arts,  as  soon  as  the  first 
mechanical  difficulties  had  been  got  over,  and  the  language  was  suf- 
ficiently acquired,  they  rose  by  clusters  and  in  constellations,  never 
so  to  rise  again  ! 

The  arts  of  painting  and  poetry  are  conversant  with  the  world  of 
thought  within  us,  and  with  the  world  of  sense  around  us — with 
what  we  know,  and  see,  and  feel  intimately.  They  flow  from  the 
sacred  shrine  of  our  own  breasts,  and  are  kindled  at  the  living  lamp 
of  nature.  But  the  pulse  of  the  passions  assuredly  beat  as  high,  the 
depths  and  soundings  of  the  human  heart  were  as  well  understood, 
three  thousand  or  three  hundred  years  ago  as  they  are  at  present : 
the  face  of  nature  and  "  the  human  face  divine  "  shone  as  bright  then 
as  they  have  ever  done.  But  it  is  their  light,  reflected  by  true  genius 
on  art,  that  marks  out  its  path  before  it,  and  sheds  a  glory  round  the 
Muses'  feet,  like  that  which 

"  Circled  Una's  angel  face, 
And  made  a  sunshine  in  the  shady  place." 

The  four  greatest  names  in  English  poetry  are  almost  the  four 
first  we  come  to :  Chaucer,  Spenser,  Shakspeare,  and  Milton.  There 
are  no  others  that  can  really  be  put  in  competition  with  these.  The 
two  last  have  had  justice  done  them  by  the  voice  of  common  fame. 
Their  names  are  blazoned  in  the  very  firmament  of  reputation ; 
while  the  two  first  (though  "  the  fault  has  been  more  in  their  stars 
than  in  themselves  that  they  are  underlings  ")  either  never  emerged 
far  above  the  horizon  or  were  too  soon  involved  in  the  obscurity  of 
tune. 

In  comparing  these  four  writers  together,  it  might  be  said  that 
Chaucer  excels  as  the  poet  of  manners,  or  of  real  life ;  Spenser,  as 
the  poet  of  romance ;  Shakspeare  as  the  poet  of  nature  (in  the 
largest  use  of  the  term) ;  and  Milton,  as  the  poet  of  morality. 
Chaucer  most  frequently  describes  things  as  they  are ;  Spenser,  as 
we  wish  them  to  be ;  Shakspeare,  as  they  would  be ;  and  Milton, 
as  they  ought  to  be.  As  poets,  and  as  great  poets,  imagination, 
that  is,  the  power  of  feigning  things  according  to  nature,  was  com- 
mon to  them  all ;  but  the  principle  or  moving  power  to  which  this 
faculty  was  most  subservient  in  Chaucer  was  habit  or  inveterate 
prejudice ;  in  Spenser,  novelty  and  the  love  of  the  marvellous ;  in 


SHAKSPEARE  AND  MILTON.  113 

Shakspeare,  it  was  the  force  of  passion,  combined  with  every  variety 
of  possible  circumstances ;  and  in  Milton,  [combined]  only  with  the 
highest.  The  characteristic  of  Chaucer  is  intensity ;  of  Spenser, 
remoteness ;  of  Milton,  elevation ;  of  Shakspere,  everything.  It  has 
been  said  by  some  critic,  that  Shakspeare  was  distinguished  from  the 
other  dramatic  writers  of  his  day  only  by  his  wit ;  that  they  had  all 
his  other  qualities  but  that;  that  one  writer  had  as  much  sense, 
another  as  much  fancy,  another  as  much  knowledge  of  character, 
another  the  same  depth  of  passion,  and  another  as  great  a  power  of 
language.  This  statement  is  not  true ;  nor  is  the  inference  from  it 
well  founded,  even  if  it  were.  This  person  does  not  seem  to  have 
been  aware  that,  upon  his  own  showing,  the  great  distinction  of 
Shakspeare's  genius  was  its  virtually  including  the  genius  of  all  the 
great  men  of  his  age,  and  not  his  differing  from  them  in  one  acci- 
dental particular.  But  to  have  done  with  such  minute  and  literal 
trifling. 

The  striking  peculiarity  of  Shakspeare's  mind  was  its  generic 
quality,  its  power  of  communication  with  all  other  minds,  so  that 
it  contained  a  universe  of  thought  and  feeling  within  itself,  and  had 
no  one  peculiar  bias  or  exclusive  excellence  more  than  another.  He 
was  just  like  any  other  man,  but  that  he  was  like  all  other  men. 
He  was  the  least  of  an  egotist  that  it  was  possible  to  be.  He  was 
nothing  in  himself ;  but  he  was  all  that  others  were,  or  that  they 
could  become.  He  not  only  had  in  himself  the  germs  of  every  faculty 
and  feeling,  but  he  could  follow  them  by  anticipation,  intuitively, 
into  all  their  conceivable  ramifications,  through  every  change  of 
fortune  or  conflict  of  passion,  or  turn  of  thought.  He  had  "  a  mind 
reflecting  ages  past "  and  present :  all  the  people  that  ever  lived  are 
there.  There  was  no  respect  of  persons  with  him.  His  genius  shone 
equally  on  the  evil  and  on  the  good,  on  the  wise  and  the  foolish,  the 
monarch  and  the  beggar.  "  All  corners  of  the  earth,  kings,  queens, 
and  states,  maids,  matrons,  nay,  the  secrets  of  the  grave,"  are  hardly 
hid  from  his  searching  glance.  He  was  like  the  genius  of  humanity, 
changing  places  with  all  of  us  at  pleasure,  and  playing  with  our 
purposes  as  with  his  own.  He  turned  the  globe  round  for  his 
amusement,  and  surveyed  the  generations  of  men,  and  the  indivi- 
duals as  they  passed,  with  then*  different  concerns,  passions,  follies, 
vices,  virtues,  actions,  and  motives — as  well  those  that  they  knew 
as  those  which  they  did  not  know,  or  acknowledge  to  themselves. 
The  dreams  of  childhood,  the  ravings  of  despair,  were  the  toys  of 
his  fancy.  Airy  beings  waited  at  his  call  and  came  at  his  bidding. 
Harmless  fairies  "  nodded  to  him,  and  did  him  courtesies ; "  and  the 
night-hag  bestrode  the  blast  at  the  command  of  "his  so  potent 


114        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

art."  The  world  of  spirits  lay  open  to  him,  like  the  world  of  real 
men  and  women ;  and  there  is  the  same  truth  in  his  delineations  of 
the  one  as  of  the  other ;  for  if  the  preternatural  characters  he  de- 
scribes could  be  supposed  to  exist,  they  would  speak,  and  feel,  and  act 
as  he  makes  them.  He  had  only  to  think  of  anything  in  order  to  be- 
come that  thing,  with  all  the  circumstances  belonging  to  it.  When 
he  conceived  of  a  character,  whether  real  or  imaginary,  he  not  only 
entered  into  all  its  thoughts  and  feelings,  but  seemed  instantly,  and 
as  if  by  touching  a  secret  spring,  to  be  surrounded  with  all  the  same 
objects,  "  subject  to  the  same  skyey  influences,"  the  same  local,  out- 
ward, and  unforeseen  accidents  which  would  occur  in  reality.  Thus 
the  character  of  Caliban  not  only  stands  before  us  with  a  language 
and  manners  of  its  own,  but  the  scenery  and  situation  of  the  en- 
chanted island  he  inhabits,  the  traditions  of  the  place,  its  strange 
noises,  its  hidden  recesses,  "  his  frequent  haunts  and  ancient  neigh- 
bourhood," are  given  with  a  miraculous  truth  of  nature,  and  with  all 
the  familiarity  of  an  old  recollection.  The  whole  "  coheres  semblably 
together  "  in  time,  place,  and  circumstance.  In  reading  this  author, 
you  do  not  merely  learn  what  his  characters  say :  you  see  their  per- 
sons. By  something  expressed  or  understood,  you  are  at  no  loss 
to  decipher  their  peculiar  physiognomy,  the  meaning  of  a  look,  the 
grouping,  the  by-play,  as  we  might  see  it  on  the  stage.  A  word, 
an  epithet,  paints  a  whole  scene,  or  throws  us  back  whole  years  in 
the  history  of  the  person  represented.  .  .  . 

That  which,  perhaps,  more  than  anything  else  distinguishes  the 
dramatic  productions  of  Shakspeare  from  all  others  is  this  wonder- 
ful truth  and  individuality  of  conception.  Each  of  his  characters  is 
as  much  itself,  and  as  absolutely  independent  of  the  rest  as  well  as 
of  the  author,  as  if  they  were  living  persons,  not  fictions  of  the 
mind.  The  poet  may  be  said,  for  the  time,  to  identify  himself  with 
the  character  he  wishes  to  represent,  and  to  pass  from  one  to 
another,  like  the  same  soul  successively  animating  different  bodies. 
By  an  art  like  that  of  the  ventriloquist,  he  throws  his  imagination 
out  of  himself,  and  makes  every  word  appear  to  proceed  from  the 
mouth  of  the  person  in  whose  name  it  is  given.  His  plays  alone 
are  properly  expressions  of  the  passions,  not  descriptions  of  them. 
His  characters  are  real  beings  of  flesh  and  blood ;  they  speak  like 
men,  not  like  authors.  One  might  suppose  that  he  had  stood  by  at 
the  time,  and  overheard  what  passed.  As  in  our  dreams  we  hold 
conversations  with  ourselves,  make  remarks,  or  communicate  intelli- 
gence, and  have  no  idea  of  the  answer  which  we  shall  receive,  and 
which  we  ourselves  make,  till  we  hear  it :  so  the  dialogues  in  Shak- 
speare are  carried  on  without  any  consciousness  of  what  is  to  follow, 


SHAKSPEARE  AND  MILTON.  115 

without  any  appearance  of  preparation  or  premeditation.  The  gusts 
of  passion  come  and  go  like  sounds  of  music  borne  on  the  wind. 
Nothing  is  made  out  by  formal  inference  and  analogy,  by  climax 
and  antithesis :  all  comes,  or  seems  to  come,  immediately  from 
nature.  Each  object  and  circumstance  exists  in  his  mind,  as  it 
would  have  existed  in  reality:  each  several  train  of  thought  and 
feeling  goes  on  of  itself,  without  confusion  or  effort.  In  the  world 
of  his  imagination  everything  has  a  life,  a  place  and  being  of  its 
own!  .  .  . 

Shakspeare's  imagination  is  of  the  same  plastic  kind  as  his  con- 
ception of  character  or  passion.  "  It  glances  from  heaven  to  earth, 
from  earth  to  heaven."  Its  movement  is  rapid  and  devious.  It 
unites  the  most  opposite  extremes;  or,  as  Puck  says,  in  boasting 
of  his  own  feats,  "puts  a  girdle  round  about  the  earth  in  forty 
minutes."  He  seems  always  hurrying  from  his  subject,  even  while 
describing  it ;  but  the  stroke,  like  the  lightning's,  is  sure  as  it  is 
sudden.  He  takes  the  widest  possible  range,  but  from  that  very 
range  he  has  his  choice  of  the  greatest  variety  and  aptitude  of 
materials.  He  brings  together  images  the  most  alike,  but  placed  at 
the  greatest  distance  from  each  other;  that  is,  found  in  circum- 
stances of  the  greatest  dissimilitude.  From  the  remoteness  of  his 
combinations,  and  the  celerity  with  which  they  are  effected,  they 
coalesce  the  more  indissolubly  together.  The  more  the  thoughts 
are  strangers  to  each  other,  and  the  longer  they  have  been  kept 
asunder,  the  more  intimate  does  their  union  seem  to  become. 
Their  felicity  is  equal  to  their  force.  Their  likeness  is  made  more 
dazzling  by  their  novelty.  They  startle,  and  take  the  fancy  prisoner 
in  the  same  instant.  .  .  . 

Shakspeare's  language  and  versification  are  like  the  rest  of  him. 
He  has  a  magic  power  over  words  ;  they  come  winged  at  his  bidding, 
and  seem  to  know  their  places.  They  are  struck  out  at  a  heat  on 
the  spur  of  the  occasion,  and  have  all  the  truth  and  vividness  which 
arise  from  an  actual  impression  of  the  objects.  His  epithets  and 
single  phrases  are  like  sparkles,  thrown  off  from  an  imagination  fired 
by  the  whirling  rapidity  of  its  own  motion.  His  language  is  hiero- 
glyphical.  It  translates  thoughts  into  visible  images.  It  abounds 
in  sudden  transitions  and  elliptical  expressions.  This  is  the  source 
of  his  mixed  metaphors,  which  are  only  abbreviated  forms  of  speech. 
These,  however,  give  no  pain  from  long  custom.  They  have,  in  fact, 
become  idioms  in  the  langxiage.  They  are  the  building,  and  not  the 
scaffolding  to  thought.  We  take  the  meaning  and  effect  of  a  well- 
known  passage  entire,  and  no  more  stop  to  scan  and  spell  out  the 
particular  words  and  phrases  than  the  syllables  of  which  they  are 


Ii6         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

composed.  In  trying  to  recollect  any  other  author,  one  sometimes 
stumbles,  in  case  of  failure,  on  a  word  as  good.  In  Shakspeare, 
any  other  word  but  the  true  one  is  sure  to  be  wrong.  If  any- 
body, for  instance,  could  not  recollect  the  words  of  the  following 
description — 


-"Light  thickens,  and  the  crow 


Makes  wing  to  the  rooky  wood, " 

he  would  be  greatly  at  a  loss  to  substitute  others  for  them  equally 
expressive  of  the  feeling.  .  .  . 

Shakspeare  discovers  in  his  writings  little  religious  enthusiasm, 
and  an  indifference  to  personal  reputation:  he  had  none  of  the 
bigotry  of  his  age ;  and  his  political  prejudices  were  not  very  strong. 
In  these  respects,  as  well  as  in  every  other,  he  formed  a  direct  con- 
trast to  Milton.  Milton's  works  are  a  perpetual  invocation  to  the 
Muses,  a  hymn  to  Fame.  He  had  his  thoughts  constantly  fixed  on 
the  contemplation  of  the  Hebrew  theocracy,  and  of  a  perfect  com- 
monwealth ;  and  he  seized  the  pen  with  a  hand  just  warm  from  the 
touch  of  the  ark  of  faith.  His  religious  zeal  infused  its  character 
into  his  imagination;  so  that  he  devotes  himself  with  the  same 
sense  of  duty  to  the  cultivation  of  his  genius  as  he  did  to  the 
exercise  of  virtue  or  the  good  of  his  country.  The  spirit  of  the 
poet,  the  patriot,  and  the  prophet  vied  with  each  other  in  his 
breast.  His  mind  appears  to  have  held  equal  communion  with  the 
inspired  writers,  and  with  the  bards  and  sages  of  ancient  Greece 
and  Rome : 

"  Blind  Thamyris,  and  blind  Mseonides, 
And  Tiresias,  and  Phineus,  prophets  old." 

He  had  a  high  standard  with  which  he  was  always  comparing  him- 
self, nothing  short  of  which  could  satisfy  his  jealous  ambition.  He 
thought  of  nobler  forms  and  nobler  things  than  those  he  found 
about  him.  He  lived  apart  in  the  solitude  of  his  own  thoughts, 
carefully  excluding  from  his  mind  whatever  might  distract  its  pur- 
poses, or  alloy  its  purity,  or  damp  its  zeal.  "  With  darkness  and 
with  dangers  compassed  round,"  he  had  the  mighty  models  of 
antiquity  always  present  to  his  thoughts,  and  determined  to  raise 
a  monument  of  equal  height  and  glory,  "  piling  up  every  stone  of 
lustre  from  the  brook,"  for  the  delight  and  wonder  of  posterity. 
He  had  girded  himself  up,  and,  as  it  were,  sanctified  his  genius  to 
this  service  from  his  youth.  "  For  after,"  he  says,  "  I  had  from  my 
first  years,  by  the  ceaseless  diligence  and  care  of  my  father,  been 
exercised  to  the  tongues,  and  some  sciences  as  my  age  could  suffer, 


SHAKSPEARE  AND  MILTON.  117 

by  sundry  masters  and  teachers,  it  was  found  that  whether  aught 
was  imposed  upon  me  by  them,  or  betaken  to  of  my  own  choice,  the 
style,  by  certain  vital  signs  it  had,  was  likely  to  live ;  but  much 
latelier,  in  the  private  academies  of  Italy,  perceiving  that  some 
trifles  which  I  had  in  memory,  composed  at  under  twenty  or  there- 
about, met  with  acceptance  above  what  was  looked  for,  I  began 
thus  far  to  assent  both  to  them  and  divers  of  my  friends  here  at 
home,  and  not  less  to  an  inward  prompting  which  now  grew  daily 
upon  me,  that  by  labour  and  intense  study  (which  I  take  to  be  my 
portion  in  this  life),  joined  with  the  strong  propensity  of  nature, 
I  might  perhaps  leave  something  so  written  to  after-times  as  they 
should  not  willingly  let  it  die.  The  accomplishment  of  these  inten- 
tions, which  have  lived  within  me  ever  since  I  could  conceive  myself 
anything  worth  to  my  country,  lies  not  but  in  a  power  above  man's 
to  promise  ;  but  that  none  hath  by  more  studious  ways  endeavoured, 
and  with  more  unwearied  spirit  that  none  shall,  that  I  dare  almost 
aver  of  myself,  as  far  as  life  and  free  leisure  will  extend.  Neither 
do  I  think  it  shame  to  covenant  with  any  knowing  reader,  that  for 
some  few  years  yet  I  may  go  on  trust  with  him  toward  the  payment 
of  what  I  am  now  indebted,  as  being  a  work  not  to  be  raised  from 
the  heat  of  youth  or  the  vapours  of  wine  :  like  that  which  flows  at 
waste  from  the  pen  of  some  vulgar  amourist,  or  the  trencher  fury 
of  a  rhyming  parasite,  nor  to  be  obtained  by  the  invocation  of  Dame 
Memory  and  her  Siren  daughters,  but  by  devout  prayer  to  that 
eternal  Spirit  who  can  enrich  with  all  utterance  and  knowledge, 
and  sends  out  His  Seraphim  with  the  hallowed  fire  of  His  altar, 
to  touch  and  purify  the  lips  of  whom  He  pleases  :  to  this  must  be 
added  industrious  and  select  reading,  steady  observation,  and  in- 
sight into  all  seemly  and  generous  arts  and  affairs.  Although  it 
nothing  content  me  to  have  disclosed  thus  much  beforehand ;  but 
that  I  trust  hereby  to  make  it  manifest  with  what  small  willingness 
I  endure  to  interrupt  the  pursuit  of  no  less  hopes  than  these,  and 
leave  a  calm  and  pleasing  solitariness,  fed  with  cheerful  and  con- 
fident thoughts,  to  embark  in  a  troubled  sea  of  noises  and  hoarse 
disputes,  from  beholding  the  bright  countenance  of  truth  in  the 
quiet  and  still  air  of  delightful  studies." 
So  that  of  Spenser : 

"  The  noble  heart  that  harbours  virtuous  thought, 
And  is  with  child  of  glorious  great  intent, 
Can  never  rest  until  it  forth  have  brought 
The  eternal  brood  of  glory  excellent. " 

Milton,  therefore,  did  not  write  from  casual  impulse,  but  after  a 
severe  examination  of  his  own  strength,  and  with  a  resolution  to 


riS         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

leave  nothing  undone  which  it  was  in  his  power  to  do.  He  always 
labours,  and  almost  always  succeeds.  He  strives  hard  to  say  the 
finest  things  in  the  world,  and  he  does  say  them.  He  adorns  and 
dignifies  his  subject  to  the  utmost :  he  surrounds  it  with  every 
possible  association  of  beauty  or  grandeur,  whether  moral,  intel- 
lectual, or  physical.  He  refines  on  his  descriptions  of  beauty,  loading 
sweets  on  sweets,  till  the  sense  aches  at  them,  and  raises  his  images 
of  terror  to  a  gigantic  elevation,  that  "  makes  Ossa  like  a  wart."  In 
Milton,  there  is  always  an  appearance  of  effort :  in  Shakspeare, 
scarcely  any.  .  .  . 

Milton's  blank  verse  is  the  only  blank  verse  in  the  language 
(except  Shakspeare's)  that  deserves  the  name  of  verse.  Dr.  John- 
son, who  had  modelled  his  ideas  of  versification  on  the  regular 
sing-song  of  Pope,  condemns  the  "Paradise  Lost"  as  harsh  and 
unequal.  I  shall  not  pretend  to  say  that  this  is  not  sometimes  the 
case ;  for  where  a  degree  of  excellence  beyond  the  mechanical  rules 
of  art  is  attempted,  the  poet  must  sometimes  fail.  But  I  imagine 
that  there  are  more  perfect  examples  in  Milton  of  musical  expres- 
sion, or  of  an  adaptation  of  the  sound  and  movement  of  the  verse 
to  the  meaning  of  the  passage,  than  in  all  our  other  writers,  whether 
of  rhyme  or  blank  verse,  put  together  (with  the  exception  already 
mentioned).  Spenser  is  the  most  harmonious  of  our  stanza-writers, 
sis  Dryden  is  the  most  sounding  and  varied  of  our  rhymists.  But 
in  neither  is  there  anything  like  the  same  ear  for  music,  the  same 
power  of  approximating  the  varieties  of  poetical  to  those  of  musical 
rhythm,  as  there  is  in  our  great  epic  poet.  The  sound  of  his  lines 
is  moulded  into  the  expression  of  the  sentiment,  almost  of  the  very 
image.  They  rise  or  fall,  pause  or  hurry  rapidly  on,  with  exquisite 
art,  but  without  the  least  trick  or  affectation,  as  the  occasion  seems 
to  require. 

MILTON'S  CHARACTER  OF  "  SATAN." 

SATAN  is  the  most  heroic  subject  that  ever  was  chosen  for  a  poem ; 
and  the  execution  is  as  perfect  as  the  design  is  lofty.  He  was  the 
first  of  created  beings  who,  for  endeavouring  to  be  equal  with  the 
highest,  and  to  divide  the  empire  of  heaven  with  the  Almighty,  was 
hurled  down  to  hell.  His  aim  was  no  less  than  the  throne  of  the 
universe;  his  means,  myriads  of  angelic  armies  bright,  the  third 
part  of  the  heavens,  whom  he  lured  after  him  with  his  counte- 
nance, and  who  durst  defy  the  Omnipotent  in  arms.  His  ambition 
was  the  greatest,  and  his  punishment  was  the  greatest ;  but  not  so 
his  despair:  for  his  fortitude  was  as  great  as  his  sufferings.  Hia 


MILTON'S  CHARACTER  OF  "SATAN."  119 

strength  of  mind  was  matchless  as  his  strength  of  body ;  the  vast- 
ness  of  his  designs  did  not  surpass  the  firm,  inflexible  determination 
with  which  he  submitted  to  his  irreversible  doom  and  final  loss  of 
all  good.  His  power  of  action  and  of  suffering  was  equal.  He  was 
the  greatest  power  that  was  ever  overthrown,  with  the  strongest 
will  left  to  resist  or  to  endure.  He  was  baffled,  not  confounded. 
He  stood  like  a  tower ;  or 


-"As  when  heaven's  fire 


Hath  scathed  the  forest  oaks  or  mountain  pines." 

He  was  still  surrounded  with  hosts  of  rebel  angels,  armed  warriors, 
who  own  him  as  their  sovereign  leader,  and  with  whose  fate  he 
sympathises  as  he  views  them  round,  far  as  the  eye  can  reach ; 
though  he  keeps  aloof  from  them  in  his  own  mind,  and  holds 
supreme  counsel  only  with  his  own  breast.  An  outcast  from 
heaven,  hell  trembles  beneath  his  feet,  Sin  and  Death  are  at  his 
heels,  and  mankind  are  his  easy  prey : 

"  All  is  not  lost ;  th'  unconquerable  will, 
And  study  of  revenge,  immortal  hate, 
And  courage  never  to  submit  or  yield, 
And  what  else  is  not  to  be  overcome," 

are  still  his.  The  sense  of  his  punishment  seems  lost  in  the  magni- 
tude of  it ;  the  fierceness  of  tormenting  flames  is  qualified  and  made 
innoxious  by  the  greater  fierceness  of  his  pride ;  the  loss  of  infinite 
happiness  to  himself  is  compensated  in  thought  by  the  power  of 
inflicting  infinite  misery  on  others.  Yet  Satan  is  not  the  principle 
of  malignity,  or  of  the  abstract  love  of  evil,  but  of  the  abstract  love 
of  power,  of  pride,  of  self-will  personified,  to  which  last  principle 
all  other  good  and  evil,  and  even  his  own,  are  subordinate.  From 
this  principle  he  never  once  flinches.  His  love  of  power  and  con- 
tempt for  suffering  are  never  once  relaxed  from  the  highest  pitch 
of  intensity.  His  thoughts  burn  like  a  hell  within  him ;  but  the 
power  of  thought  holds  dominion  in  his  mind  over  every  other  con- 
sideration. The  consciousness  of  a  determined  purpose,  of  "that 
intellectual  being,  those  thoughts  that  wander  through  eternity, 
though  accompanied  with  endless  pain,  he  prefers  to  nonentity,  to 
"  being  swallowed  up  and  lost  in  the  wide  womb  of  uncreated  night." 
He  expresses  the  sum  and  substance  of  all  ambition  in  one  line: 
"  Fallen  cherub,  to  be  weak  as  miserable,  doing  or  suffering ! "  After 
such  a  conflict  as  his  and  such  a  defeat,  to  retreat  in  order,  to  rally, 
to  make  terms,  to  exist  at  all,  is  something ;  but  he  does  more  than 
this:  he  founds  a  new  empire  in  hell,  and  from  it  conquers  this 


120        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

new  world,  whither  he  bends  his  undaunted  flight,  forcing  his  way 
through  nether  and  surrounding  fires.  The  poet  has  not  in  all 
this  given  us  a  mere  shadowy  outline  ;  the  strength  is  equal  to  the 
magnitude  of  the  conception.  The  Achilles  of  Homer  is  not  more 
distinct;  the  Titans  were  not  more  vast;  Prometheus  chained  to 
his  rock  was  not  a  more  terrific  example  of  suffering  and  of  crime. 
Wherever  the  figure  of  Satan  is  introduced,  whether  he  walks  or 
flies,  "  rising  aloft  incumbent  on  the  dusky  air,"  it  is  illustrated  with 
the  most  striking  and  appropriate  images :  so  that  we  see  it  always 
before  us,  gigantic,  irregular,  portentous,  uneasy,  and  disturbed ;  but 
dazzling  in  its  faded  splendour,  the  clouded  ruins  of  a  god.  The 
deformity  of  Satan  is  only  in  the  depravity  of  his  will ;  he  has  no 
bodily  deformity  to  excite  our  loathing  or  disgust.  The  horns  and 
tail  are  not  there,  poor  emblems  of  the  unbending,  unconquered 
spirit,  of  the  writhing  agonies  within.  Milton  was  too  magnanimous 
and  open  an  antagonist  to  support  his  argument  by  the  by-tricks  of 
a  hump  and  cloven  foot,  to  bring  into  the  fair  field  of  controversy 
the  good  old  catholic  prejudices  of  which  Tasso  and  Dante  have 
availed  themselves,  and  which  the  mystic  German  critics  would 
restore.  He  relied  on  the  justice  of  his  cause,  and  did  not  scruple 
to  give  the  devil  his  due.  Some  persons  may  think  that  he  has 
carried  his  liberality  too  far,  and  injured  the  cause  he  professed  to 
espouse  by  making  him  the  chief  person  in  his  poem.  Considering 
the  nature  of  his  subject,  he  would  be  equally  in  danger  of  running 
into  this  fault,  from  his  faith  in  religion  and  his  love  of  rebellion ; 
and  perhaps  each  of  these  motives  had  its  full  share  in  determining 
the  choice  of  his  subject. 

DRYDEN  AND  POPE. 

THE  question,  whether  Pope  was  a  poet,  has  hardly  yet  been  settled, 
and  is  hardly  worth  settling ;  for  if  he  was  not  a  great  poet,  he  must 
have  been  a  great  prose-writer ;  that  is,  he  was  a  great  writer  of 
some  sort.  He  was  a  man  of  exquisite  faculties,  and  of  the  most 
refined  taste ;  and  as  he  chose  verse  (the  most  obvious  distinction 
of  poetry)  as  the  vehicle  to  express  his  ideas,  he  has  generally  passed 
for  a  poet,  and  a  good  one.  If  indeed  by  a  great  poet  we  mean  one 
who  gives  the  utmost  grandeur  to  our  conceptions  of  nature,  or  the 
utmost  force  to  the  passions  of  the  heart,  Pope  was  not  in  this  sense 
a  great  poet ;  for  the  bent,  the  characteristic  power  of  his  mind,  lay 
the  clean  contrary  way  ;  namely,  in  representing  things  as  they  ap- 
pear to  the  indifferent  observer,  stripped  of  prejudice  and  passion, 
as  in  his  "  Critical  Essays ; "  or  in  representing  them  in  the  most 


DRYDEN  AND  POPE.  121 

contemptible  and  insignificant  point  of  view,  as  in  his  "  Satires ; "  or 
in  clothing  the  little  with  mock-dignity,  as  in  his  poems  of  AFancy ;" 
or  in  adorning  the  trivial  incidents  and  familiar  relations  oruf  e  with 
the  utmost  elegance  of  expression  and  all  the  flattering  illusions  of 
friendship  or  self-love,  as  in  his  "  Epistles."  He  was  not,  then,  dis- 
tinguished as  a  poet  of  lofty  enthusiasm,  of  strong  imagination,  with 
a  passionate  sense  of  the  beauties  of  nature,  or  a  deep  insight  into 
the  workings  of  the  heart :  but  he  was  a  wit  and  a  critic,  a  man 
of  sense,  of  observation,  and  the  world,  with  a  keen  relish  for  the 
elegances  of  art,  or  of  nature  when  embellished  by  art,  a  quick  tact 
for  propriety  of  thought  and  manners  as  established  by  the  forms 
and  customs  of  society,  a  refined  sympathy  with  the  sentiments  and 
habitudes  of  human  life,  as  he  felt  them  within  the  little  circle  of 
his  family  and  friends.  He  was,  in  a  word,  the  poet,  not  of  nature, 
but  of  art ;  and  the  distinction  between  the  two,  as  well  as  I  can 
make  it  out,  is  this.  The  poet  of  nature  is  one  who,  from  the 
elements  of  beauty,  of  power,  and  of  passion  in  his  own  breast, 
sympathises  with  whatever  is  beautiful,  and  grand,  and  impassioned 
in  nature,  in  its  simple  majesty,  in  its  immediate  appeal  to  the 
senses,  to  the  thoughts  and  hearts  of  all  men ;  so  that  the  poet  of 
nature,  by  the  truth,  and  depth,  and  harmony  of  his  mind,  may  be 
said  to  hold  communion  with  the  very  soul  of  nature ;  to  be  identi- 
fied with,  and  to  foreknow,  and  to  record  the  feelings  of  all  men  at 
all  times  and  places,  as  they  are  liable  to  the  same  impressions,  and 
to  exert  the  same  power  over  the  minds  of  his  readers  that  nature 
does.  He  sees  things  in  their  eternal  beauty,  for  he  sees  them  as 
they  are ;  he  feels  them  in  their  universal  interest,  for  he  feels  them 
as  they  affect  the  first  principles  of  his  and  our  common  nature. 
Such  was  Homer,  such  was  Shakspeare,  whose  works  will  last  as 
long  as  nature,  because  they  are  a  copy  of  the  indestructible  forms 
and  everlasting  impulses  of  nature,  welling  out  from  the  bosom  as  from 
a  perennial  spring,  or  stamped  upon  the  senses  by  the  hand  of  their 
Maker.  The  power  of  the  imagination  in  them  is  the  representative 
power  of  all  nature.  It  has  its  centre  in  the  human  soul,  and  makes 
the  circuit  of  the  universe. 

Pope  was  not  assuredly  a  poet  of  this  class,  or  in  the  first  rank 
of  it.  He  saw  nature  only  dressed  by  art ;  he  judged  of  beauty  by 
fashion ;  he  sought  for  truth  in  the  opinions  of  the  world ;  he  judged 
of  the  feelings  of  others  by  his  own.  The  capacious  soul  of  Shak- 
speare had  an  intuitive  and  mighty  sympathy  with  whatever  could 
enter  into  the  heart  of  man  in  all  possible  circumstances :  Pope  had 
an  exact  knowledge  of  all  that  he  himself  loved  or  hated,  wished  or 
wanted.  Milton  has  winged  his  daring  flight  from  heaven  to  earth, 


122         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

through  Chaos  and  old  Night.  Pope's  Muse  never  wandered  with 
safety  but  from  his  library  to  his  grotto,  or  from  his  grotto  into  his 
library  back  again.  His  mind  dwelt  with  greater  pleasure  on  his 
own  garden  than  on  the  garden  of  Eden;  he  could  describe  the 
fautless  whole-length  mirror  that  reflected  his  own  person  better 
than  the  smooth  surface  of  the  lake  that  reflects  the  face  of  heaven, 
a  piece  of  cut-glass  or  a  pair  of  paste  buckles  with  more  brilliance 
and  effect  than  a  thousand  dew-drops  glittering  in  the  sun.  He 
would  be  more  delighted  with  a  patent  lamp  than  with  "  the  pale 
reflex  of  Cynthia's  brow,"  that  fills  the  skies  with  its  soft,  silent 
lustre,  that  trembles  through  the  cottage-window,  and  cheers  the 
watchful  mariner  on  the  lonely  wave.  In  short,  he  was  the  poet  of 
personality  and  of  polished  life.  That  which  was  nearest  to  him 
was  the  greatest :  the  fashion  of  the  day  bore  sway  in  his  mind 
over  the  immutable  laws  of  nature.  He  preferred  the  artificial  to 
the  natural  in  external  objects,  because  he  had  a  stronger  fellow- 
feeling  with  the  self-love  of  the  maker  or  proprietor  of  a  gewgaw 
than  admiration  of  that  which  was  interesting  to  all  mankind.  He 
preferred  the  artificial  to  the  natural  in  passion,  because  the  in- 
voluntary and  uncalculating  impulses  of  the  one  hurried  him  away 
with  a  force  and  vehemence  with  which  he  could  not  grapple ;  while 
he  could  trifle  with  the  conventional  and  superficial  modifications 
of  mere  sentiment  at  will,  laugh  at  or  admire,  put  them  on  or  off 
like  a  masquerade  dress,  make  much  or  little  of  them,  indulge  them 
for  a  longer  or  a  shorter  time,  as  he  pleased ;  and  because,  while  they 
amused  his  fancy  and  exercised  his  ingenuity,  they  never  once  dis- 
turbed his  vanity,  his  levity  or  indifference.  His  mind  was  the 
antithesis  of  strength  and  grandeur;  its  power  was  the  power  of 
indifference.  He  had  none  of  the  enthusiasm  of  poetry ;  he  was  in 
poetry  what  the  sceptic  is  in  religion.  .  .  . 

His  Muse  was  oil  a  peace-establishment,  and  grew  somewhat 
effeminate  by  long  ease  and  indulgence.  He  lived  in  the  smiles  of 
fortune,  and  basked  in  the  favour  of  the  great.  In  his  smooth 
and  polished  verse  we  meet  with  no  prodigies  of  nature,  but  with 
miracles  of  wit ;  the  thunders  of  his  pen  are  whispered  flatteries ; 
its  forked  lightnings,  pointed  sarcasms ;  for  "  the  gnarled  oak "  he 
gives  us  "  the  soft  myrtle : "  for  rocks,  and  seas,  and  mountains, 
artificial  grass-plots,  gravel-walks,  and  tinkling  rills :  for  earth- 
quakes and  tempests,  the  breaking  of  a  flower-pot  or  the  fall  of  a 
china-jar :  for  the  tug  and  war  of  the  elements  or  the  deadly  strife 
of  the  passions  we  have 

"Calm  contemplation  and  poetic  ease." 


DRYDEN  AND  POPE.  123 

Yet  within  this  retired  and  narrow  circle  how  much,  and  that  how 
exquisite,  was  contained!  What  discrimination,  what  wit,  what 
delicacy,  what  fancy,  what  lurking  spleen,  what  elegance  of  thought, 
what  pampered  refinement  of  sentiment !  It  is  like  looking  at 
the  world  through  a  microscope,  where  everything  assumes  a  new 
character  and  a  new  consequence,  where  things  are  seen  in  their 
minutest  circumstances  and  slightest  shades  of  difference ;  where 
the  little  becomes  gigantic,  the  deformed  beautiful,  and  the  beauti- 
ful deformed.  The  wrong  end  of  the  magnifier  is,  to  be  sure,  held 
to  everything;  but  still  the  exhibition  is  highly  curious,  and  we 
know  not  whether  to  be  most  pleased  or  surprised.  Such,  at  least, 
is  the  best  account  I  am  able  to  give  of  this  extraordinary  man, 
without  doing  injustice  to  him  or  others.  It  is  time  to  refer  to 
particular  instances  in  his  works.  .  .  . 

Dryden  was  a  better  prose-writer,  and  a  bolder  and  more  varied 
versifier  than  Pope.  He  was  a  more  vigorous  thinker,  a  more  correct 
and  logical  declaimer,  and  had  more  of  what  may  be  called  strength 
of  mind  than  Pope  ;  but  he  had  not  the  same  refinement  and  delicacy 
of  feeling.  Dryden's  eloquence  and  spirit  were  possessed  in  a  higher 
degree  by  others,  and  in  nearly  the  same  degree  by  Pope  himself ; 
but  that  by  which  Pope  was  distinguished  was  an  essence  which  he 
alone  possessed,  and  of  incomparable  value  on  that  sole  account. 
Dryden's  "  Epistles  "  are  excellent,  but  inf erior  to  Pope's,  though  they 
appear  (particularly  the  admirable  one  to  Congreve)  to  have  been 
the  model  on  which  the  latter  formed  his.  His  "  Satires  "  are  better 
than  Pope's.  His  "Absalom  and  Achitophel "  is  superior,  both  in  force 
of  invective  and  discrimination  of  character,  to  anything  of  Pope's 
in  the  same  way.  The  character  of  Achitophel  is  very  fine,  and 
breathes,  if  not  a  sincere  love  for  virtue,  a  strong  spirit  of  indignation 
against  vice. 

MacFlecknoe  is  the  origin  of  the  idea  of  the  "  Dunciad ; "  but  it  is 
less  elaborately  constructed,  less  feeble,  and  less  heavy.  The  differ- 
ence between  Pope's  satirical  portraits  and  Dryden's  appears  to 
be  this  in  a  good  measure,  that  Dryden  seems  to  grapple  with  his 
antagonists,  and  to  describe  real  persons ;  Pope  seems  to  refine  upon 
them  in  his  own  mind,  and  to  make  them  out  just  what  he  pleases, 
till  they  are  not  real  characters,  but  the  mere  drivelling  effusions  of 
his  spleen  and  malice.  Pope  describes  the  thing,  and  then  goes  on 
describing  his  own  description,  till  he  loses  himself  in  verbal  repeti- 
tions. Dryden  recurs  to  the  object  often,  takes  fresh  sittings  of 
nature,  and  gives  us  new  strokes  of  character  as  well  as  of  his  pencil. 
The  "  Hind  and  Panther  "  is  an  allegory  as  well  as  a  satire,  and  so  far 
it  tells  less  home ;  the  battery  is  not  so  point-blank.  But  otherwise 


124         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

it  has  more  genius,  vehemence,  and  strength  of  description  than 
any  other  of  Dryden's  works,  not  excepting  the  "Absalom  and  Achi- 
tophel."  It  also  contains  the  finest  examples  of  varied  and  sounding 
versification. .  .  . 

He  has  left  the  best  character  of  Shakspeare  that  has  ever  been 
written : — "  To  begin,  then,  with  Shakspeare :  he  was  the  man  who  of 
all  modern,  and  perhaps  ancient,  poets  had  the  largest  and  most  com- 
prehensive soul.  All  the  images  of  nature  were  still  present  to  him, 
and  he  drew  them  not  laboriously,  but  luckily :  when  he  describes 
anything  you  more  than  see  it — you  feel  it  too.  Those  who  accuse 
him  to  have  wanted  learning  give  him  the  greater  commendation : 
he  was  naturally  learned ;  he  needed  not  the  spectacles  of  books  to 
read  Nature :  he  looked  inwards  and  found  her  there.  I  cannot  say 
he  is  everywhere  alike ;  were  he  so,  I  should  do  him  injury  to  com- 
pare him  with  the  greatest  of  mankind.  He  is  many  times  flat  and 
insipid ;  his  comic  wit  degenerating  into  clenches,  his  serious  swell- 
ing into  bombast.  But  he  is  always  great,  when  some  great  occasion 
is  presented  to  him.  .  .  . 

WITHER. 

WITHER  is  a  name  now  almost  forgotten,  and  his  works  seldom 
read ;  but  his  poetry  is  not  infrequently  distinguished  by  a  tender 
and  pastoral  turn  of  thought ;  and  there  is  one  passage  of  exquisite 
feeling,  describing  the  consolations  of  poetry  in  the  following  terms : 

"  She  doth  tell  me  where  to  borrow 
Comfort  in  the  midst  of  sorrow  ; 
Makes  the  desolatest  place 
To  her  presence  be  a  grace  ; 
And  the  blackest  discontents 
Be  her  fairest  ornaments. 
In  my  former  days  of  bliss 
Her  divine  skill  taught  me  this, 
That  from  everything  I  saw, 
I  could  some  invention  draw  ; 
And  raise  pleasure  to  her  height, 
Through  the  meanest  object's  sight, 
By  the  murmur  of  a  spring, 
Or  the  least  bough's  rusteling, 
By  a  daisy  whose  leaves  spread, 
Shut  when  Titan  goes  to  bed  ; 
Or  a  shady  bush  or  tree, 
She  could  more  infuse  in  me, 
Than  all  Nature's  beauties  can 
In  some  other  wiser  man. 


THOMSON  AND  COWPER.  125 

By  her  help  I  also  now 

Make  this  churlish  place  allow 

Some  things  that  may  sweeten  gladness 

In  the  very  gall  of  sadness. 

The  dull  loneness,  the  black  shade, 

That  these  hanging  vaults  have  made  ; 

The  strange  music  of  the  waves, 

Beating  on  these  hollow  caves  : 

This  black  den  which  rocks  emboss, 

Overgrown  with  eldest  moss  : 

The  rude  portals  that  give  light 

More  to  terror  than  delight : 

This  my  chamber  of  neglect, 

Wall'd  about  with  disrespect : 

From  all  these  and  this  dull  air 

A  fit  object  for  despair, 

She  hath  taught  me  by  her  might 

To  draw  comfort  and  delight. 

Therefore,  thou  best  earthly  bliss, 

I  will  cherish  thee  for  this. 

Poesie,  thou  sweet'st  content 

That  e'er  Heav'n  to  mortals  lent : 

Though  they  as  a  trifle  leave  thee, 

Whose  dull  thoughts  cannot  conceive  thee  : 

Though  thou  be  to  them  a  scorn, 

That  to  nought  but  earth  are  born  : 

Let  my  life  no  longer  be 

Than  I  am  in  love  with  thee. 

Though  our  wise  ones  call  thee  madness, 

Let  me  never  taste  of  sadness, 

If  I  love  not  thy  maddest  fits, 

Above  all  their  greatest  wits. 

And  though  some  too  seeming  holy, 

Do  account  thy  raptures  folly, 

Thou  dost  teach  me  to  contemn 

What  makes  knaves  and  fools  of  them. 


THOMSON  AND  COWPER. 

ALL  that  is  admirable  in  Thomson's  poem,  "The  Seasons,"  is  the 
emanation  of  a  fine  natural  genius  and  sincere  love  of  his  subject, 
unforced,  unstudied,  that  comes  uncalled  for  and  departs  unbidden. 
But  he  takes  no  pains,  uses  no  self-correction ;  or  if  he  seems  to 
labour,  it  is  worse  than  labour  lost.  His  genius  "  cannot  be  con- 
strained by  mastery."  The  feeling  of  nature,  of  the  changes  of  the 
seasons,  was  in  his  mind ;  and  he  could  not  help  conveying  this 
feeling  to  the  reader  by  the  mere  force  of  spontaneous  expression ; 
but  if  the  expression  did  not  come  of  itself,  he  left  the  whole  busi- 


12.6         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

ness  to  chance;  or,  willing  to  evade  instead  of  encountering  the 
difficulties  of  his  subject,  fills  up  the  intervals  of  true  inspiration 
with  the  most  vapid  and  worthless  materials,  pieces  out  a  beautiful 
half-line  with  a  bombastic  allusion,  or  overloads  an  exquisitely 
natural  sentiment  or  image  with  a  cloud  of  painted,  pompous, 
cumbrous  phrases,  like  the  shower  of  roses  in  which  he  represents 
the  Spring,  his  own  lovely,  fresh,  and  innocent  Spring,  as  descend- 
ing to  the  earth : 

"  Come,  gentle  Spring  !  ethereal  Mildness  !  come, 
And  from  the  bosom  of  yon  dropping  cloud, 
While  music  wakes  around,  veil'd  in  a  shower 
Of  shadowing  roses,  on  our  plains  descend." 

Who,  from  such  a  flimsy,  round-about,  unmeaning  commencement 
as  this,  would  expect  the  delightful,  unexaggerated,  home-felt  de- 
scriptions of  natural  scenery  which  are  scattered  in  such  uncon- 
scious profusion  through  this  and  the  following  cantos?  For  in- 
stance, the  very  next  passage  is  crowded  with  a  set  of  striking 
images : 

"•And  see  where  surly  Winter  passes  off 
Far  to  the  north,  and  calls  his  ruffian  blasts  : 
His  blasts  obey,  and  quit  the  howling  hill, 
The  shatter'd  forest,  and  the  ravag'd  vale  ; 
While  softer  gales  succeed,  at  whose  kind  touch 
Dissolving  snows  in  livid  torrents  lost, 
The  mountains  lift  their  green  heads  to  the  sky. 
As  yet  the  trembling  year  is  unconfirmed, 
And  Winter  oft  at  eve  resumes  the  breeze, 
Chills  the  pale  morn,  and  bids  his  driving  sleets 
Deform  the  day  delightless ;  so  that  scarce 
The  bittern  knows  his  time  with  bill  ingulpht 
To  shake  the  sounding  marsh,  or  from  the  shore 
The  plovers  when  to  scatter  o'er  the  heath, 
And  sing  their  wild  notes  to  the  list'ning  waste." 

Thomson  is  the  best  of  our  descriptive  poets ;  for  he  gives  most 
of  the  poetry  of  natural  description.  Others  have  been  quite  equal 
to  him,  or  have  surpassed  him,  as  Cowper,  for  instance,  in  the  pic- 
turesque part  of  his  art,  in  marking  the  peculiar  features  and  curious 
details  of  objects ;  no  one  has  yet  come  up  to  him  in  giving  the  sum- 
total  of  their  effects,  their  varying  influences  on  the  mind.  He  does 
not  go  into  the  minutiae  of  a  landscape,  but  describes  the  vivid  im- 
pression which  the  whole  makes  upon  his  own  imagination,  and  thus 
transfers  the  same  unbroken,  unimpaired  impression  to  the  imagina- 
tion of  his  readers.  The  colours  with  which  he  paints  seem  yet  wet 
and  breathing,  like  those  of  the  living  statue  in  the  "  Winter's  Tale." 


THOMSON  AND  COW  PER.  127 

Nature  in  his  descriptions  is  seen  growing  around  us,  fresh  and 
lusty  as  in  itself.  We  feel  the  effect  of  the  atmosphere,  its  humidity 
or  clearness,  its  heat  or  cold,  the  glow  of  summer,  the  gloom  of 
winter,  the  tender  promise  of  the  spring,  the  full  overshadowing 
foliage,  the  declining  pomp  and  deepening  tints  of  autumn.  He 
transports  us  to  the  scorching  heat  of  vertical  suns,  or  plunges  us 
into  the  chilling  horrors  and  desolation  of  the  frozen  zone.  We 
hear  the  snow  drifting  against  the  broken  casement  without,  and 
see  the  fire  blazing  on  the  hearth  within.  The  first  scattered  drops 
of  a  vernal  shower  patter  on  the  leaves  above  our  heads,  or  the 
coming  storm  resounds  through  the  leafless  groves.  In  a  word,  he 
describes  not  to  the  eye  alone,  but  to  the  other  senses,  and  to  the 
whole  man.  He  puts  his  heart  into  his  subject,  writes  as  he  feels, 
and  humanises  whatever  he  touches.  He  makes  all  his  descriptions 
teem  with  life  and  vivifying  soul.  His  faults  were  those  of  his  style 
— of  the  author  and  the  man ;  but  the  original  genius  of  the  poet, 
the  pith  and  marrow  of  his  imagination,  the  fine  natural  mould  in 
which  his  feelings  were  bedded,  were  too  much  for  him  to  counteract 
by  neglect,  or  affectation,  or  false  ornaments.  It  is  for  this  reason 
that  he  is,  perhaps,  the  most  popular  of  all  our  poets,  treating  of 
a  subject  that  all  can  understand,  and  in  a  way  that  is  interesting 
to  all  alike,  to  the  ignorant  or  the  refined,  because  he  gives  back  the 
impression  which  the  things  themselves  make  upon  us  in  nature. 
"  That,"  said  a  man  of  genius,  seeing  a  little  shabby,  soiled  copy  of 
Thomson's  "  Seasons  "  lying  on  the  window-seat  of  an  obscure  country 
alehouse, "  That  is  true  fame  ! "  .  .  . 

Cowper,  whom  I  shall  speak  of  in  this  connection,  lived  at  a 
considerable  distance  of  time  after  Thomson,  and  had  some  advan- 
tages over  him,  particularly  in  simplicity  of  style,  in  a  certain  pre- 
cision and  minuteness  of  graphical  description,  and  in  a  more  careful 
and  leisurely  choice  of  such  topics  only  as  his  genius  and  peculiar 
habits  of  mind  prompted  him  to  treat  of.  The  "  Task  "  has  fewer 
blemishes  than  the  "  Seasons ;  "  but  it  has  not  the  same  capital  ex- 
cellence, the  "  unbought  grace  "  of  poetry,  the  power  of  moving  and 
infusing  the  warmth  of  the  author's  mind  into  that  of  the  reader. 
If  Cowper  had  a  mere  polished  taste,  Thomson  had  beyond  comparison 
a  more  fertile  genius,  more  impulsive  force,  a  more  entire  forgetful- 
ness  of  himself  in  his  subject.  If  in  Thomson  you  are  sometimes 
offended  with  the  slovenliness  of  the  author  by  profession,  determined 
to  get  through  his  task  at  all  events,  in  Cowper  you  are  no  less 
dissatisfied  with  the  finicalness  of  the  private  gentleman,  who  does 
not  care  whether  he  completes  his  work  or  not,  and  in  whatever  he 
does  is  evidently  more  solicitous  to  please  himself  than  the  public. 

N 


128        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

There  is  an  effeminacy  about  him  which  shrinks  from  and  repels 
common  and  hearty  sympathy.  With  all  his  boasted  simplicity  and 
love  of  the  country,  he  seldom  launches  out  into  general  descriptions 
of  nature;  he  looks  at  her  over  his  clipped  hedges  and  from  his 
well-swept  garden-walks ;  or  if  he  makes  a  bolder  experiment  now 
and  then,  it  is  with  an  air  of  precaution,  as  if  he  were  afraid  of  being 
caught  in  a  shower  of  rain,  or  of  not  being  able,  in  case  of  any  un- 
toward accident,  to  make  good  his  retreat  home.  He  shakes  hands 
with  nature  with  a  pair  of  fashionable  gloves  on,  and  leads  "his 
Vashti  "  forth  to  public  view  with  a  look  of  consciousness  and  atten- 
tion to  etiquette,  as  a  fine  gentleman  hands  a  lady  out  to  dance  a 
minuet.  He  is  delicate  to  fastidiousness,  and  glad  to  get  back,  after 
a  romantic  adventure  with  crazy  Kate,  a  party  of  gipsies,  or  a  little 
child  on  a  common,  to  the  drawing-room  and  the  ladies  again,  to  the 
sofa  and  the  tea-kettle — no,  I  beg  his  pardon,  riot  to  the  singing, 
well-scoured  tea-kettle,  but  to  the  polished  and  loud-hissing  urn. 
His  walks  and  arbours  are  kept  clear  of  worms  and  snails  with  as 
much  an  appearance  of  petit-maltreship  as  of  humanity.  He  has 
some  of  the  sickly  sensibility  and  pampered  refinements  of  Pope; 
but  then  Pope  prided  himself  in  them ;  whereas  Cowper  affects  to 
be  all  simplicity  and  plainness.  He  had  neither  Thomson's  love  of 
the  unadorned  beauties  of  nature  nor  Pope's  exquisite  sense  of  the 
elegances  of  art.  He  was,  in  fact,  a  nervous  man,  afraid  of  trusting 
himself  to  the  seductions  of  the  one,  and  ashamed  of  putting  for- 
ward his  pretensions  to  an  intimacy  with  the  other ;  but  to  be  a 
coward  is  not  the  way  to  succeed  either  in  poetry,  in  war,  or  in 
love !  Still  he  is  a  genuine  poet,  and  deserves  all  his  reputation. 
His  worst  vices  are  amiable  weaknesses,  elegant  trifling.  Though 
there  is  a  frequent  dryness,  timidity,  and  jejuneness  in  his  manner, 
he  has  left  a  number  of  pictures  of  domestic  comfort  and  social 
refinement,  as  well  as  of  natural  imagery  and  feeling,  which  can 
hardly  be  forgotten  but  with  the  language  itself.  Such,  among 
others,  are  his  memorable  description  of  the  post  coming  in,  that  of 
the  preparations  for  tea  on  a  winter's  evening  in  the  country,  of  the 
unexpected  fall  of  snow,  of  the  frosty  morning  (with  the  fine  satirical 
transition  to  the  Empress  of  Russia's  palace  of  ice),  and,  most  of  all, 
the  winter's  walk  at  noon.  Every  one  of  these  may  be  considered 
as  distinct  studies,  or  highly-finished  cabinet  pieces,  arranged  with- 
out order  or  coherence.  . 


SWIFT.  129 


SWIFT. 

SWIFT'S  reputation  as  a  poet  has  been  in  a  manner  obscured  by 
the  greater  splendour,  by  the  natural  force  and  inventive  genius  of 
his  prose  writings ;  but  if  he  had  never  written  either  the  "  Tale  of  a 
"  Tub  "  or  "  Gulliver's  Travels,"  his  name  merely  as  a  poet  would  have 
come  down  to  us,  and  have  gone  down  to  posterity  with  well-earned 
honours.  His  "  Imitations  of  Horace,"  and  still  more  his  Verses  on 
his  own  Death,  place  him  in  the  first  rank  of  agreeable  moralists 
in  verse.  There  is  not  only  a  dry  humour,  an  exquisite  tone  of 
irony,  in  these  productions  of  his  pen,  but  there  is  a  touching,  un- 
pretending pathos,  mixed  up  with  the  most  whimsical  and  eccentric 
strokes  of  pleasantry  and  satire.  His  "  Description  of  the  Morning 
in  London,"  and  of  a  "  City  Shower,"  which  were  first  published  in 
the  Tatler,  are  among  the  most  delightful  of  the  contents  of  that 
very  delightful  work.  Swift  shone  as  one  of  the  most  sensible  of 
the  poets ;  he  is  also  distinguished  as  one  of  the  most  nonsensical 
of  them.  No  man  has  written  so  many  lackadaisical,  slipshod, 
tedious,  trifling,  foolish,  fantastical  verses  as  he,  which  are  so  little 
an  imputation  on  the  wisdom  of  the  writer,  and  which,  in  fact,  only 
show  his  readiness  to  oblige  others  and  to  forget  himself.  He  has 
gone  so  far  as  to  invent  a  new  stanza  of  fourteen  and  sixteen  syllable 
lines  for  Mary  the  cookmaid  to  vent  her  budget  of  nothings,  and 
for  Mrs.  Harris  to  gossip  with  the  deaf  old  housekeeper.  Oh,  when 
shall  we  have  such  another  Rector  of  Laracor  ?  The  "  Tale  of  a  Tub  " 
is  one  of  the  most  masterly  compositions  in  the  language,  whether 
for  thought,  wit,  or  style.  It  is  so  capital  and  undeniable  a  proof 
of  the  author's  talents,  that  Dr.  Johnson,  who  did  not  like  Swift, 
would  not  allow  that  he  wrote  it.  It  is  hard  that  the  same  per- 
formance should  stand  in  the  way  of  a  man's  promotion  to  a 
bishopric,  as  wanting  gravity,  and  at  the  same  time  be  denied  to 
be  his,  as  having  too  much  wit.  It  is  a  pity  the  Doctor  did  not 
find  out  some  graver  author,  for  whom  he  felt  a  critical  kindness, 
on  whom  to  father  this  splendid  but  unacknowledged  production. 
Dr.  Johnson  could  not  deny  that  "  Gulliver's  Travels  "  were  his ;  he 
therefore  disputed  their  merits,  and  said  that,  after  the  first  idea  of 
them  was  conceived,  they  were  easy  to  execute ;  all  the  rest  followed 
mechanically.  I  do  not  know  how  that  may  be ;  but  the  mechanism 
employed  is  something  very  different  from  any  that  the  author 
of  "  Rasselas "  was  in  the  habit  of  bringing  to  bear  on  such  occa- 
sions. There  is  nothing  more  futile,  as  well  as  invidious,  than 


130        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC, 

this  mode  of  criticising  a  work  of  original  genius.  Its  greatest 
merit  is  supposed  to  be  in  the  invention ;  and  you  say  very 
wisely,  that  it  is  not  in  the  execution.  You  might  as  well  take  away 
the  merit  of  the  invention  of  the  telescope  by  saying  that,  after  its 
uses  were  explained  and  understood,  any  ordinary  eyesight  could 
look  through  it.  Whether  the  excellence  of  "  Gulliver's  Travels  "  is  in 
the  conception  or  the  execution  is  of  little  consequence ;  the  power 
is  somewhere,  and  it  is  a  power  that  has  moved  the  world.  The 
power  is  not  that  of  big  words  and  vaunting  commonplaces.  Swift 
left  these  to  those  who  wanted  them,  and  has  done  what  his  acute- 
ness  and  intensity  of  mind  alone  could  enable  any  one  to  conceive 
or  to  perform.  His  object  was  to  strip  empty  pride  and  grandeur 
of  the  imposing  air  which  external  circumstances  throw  around 
them ;  and  for  this  purpose  he  has  cheated  the  imagination  of  the 
illusions  which  the  prejudices  of  sense  and  of  the  world  put  upon 
it,  by  reducing  everything  to  the  abstract  predicament  of  size.  He 
enlarges  or  diminishes  the  scale,  as  he  wishes  to  show  the  insignifi- 
cance or  the  grossness  of  our  overweening  self-love.  That  he  has 
done  this  with  mathematical  precision,  with  complete  presence  of 
mind,  and  perfect  keeping,  in  a  manner  that  comes  equally  home  to 
the  understanding  of  the  man  and  of  the  child,  does  not  take  away 
from  the  merit  of  the  work  or  the  genius  of  the  author.  He  has 
taken  a  new  view  of  human  nature,  such  as  a  being  of  a  higher 
sphere  might  take  of  it ;  he  has  torn  the  scales  from  off  his  moral 
vision ;  he  has  tried  an  experiment  upon  human  life,  and  sifted  its 
pretensions  from  the  alloy  of  circumstances ;  he  has  measured  it 
with  a  rule,  has  weighed  it  in  a  balance,  and  found  it,  for  the  most 
part,  wanting  and  worthless — in  substance  and  in  show.  Nothing 
solid,  nothing  valuable  is  left  in  his  system  but  virtue  and  wisdom. 
What  a  libel  is  this  upon  mankind !  What  a  convincing  proof  of 
misanthropy !  What  presumption  and  what  malice  prepense,  to  show 
men  what  they  are,  and  to  teach  them  what  they  ought  to  be! 
What  a  mortifying  stroke  aimed  at  national  glory  is  that  unlucky 
incident  of  Gulliver's  wading  across  the  channel  and  carrying  off 
the  whole  fleet  of  Blefuscu !  After  that,  we  have  only  to  consider 
which  of  the  contending  parties  was  in  the  right.  What  a  shock  to 
personal  vanity  is  given  in  the  account  of  Gulliver's  nurse,  Glumdal- 
clitch!  Still,  notwithstanding  the  disparagement  to  her  personal 
charms,  her  good-nature  remains  the  same  amiable  quality  as  before. 
I  cannot  see  the  harm,  the  misanthropy,  the  immoral  and  degrading 
tendency  of  this.  The  moral  lesson  is  as  fine  as  the  intellectual 
exhibition  is  amusing.  It  is  an  attempt  to  tear  off  the  mask  of  im- 
posture from  the  world ;  and  nothing  but  imposture  has  a  right  to 


SWIFT— RABELAIS— VOLTAIRE.  131 

complain  of  it.  It  is,  indeed,  the  way  with  our  quacks  m  morality 
to  preach  up  the  dignity  of  human  nature,  to  pamper  pride  and 
hypocrisy  with  the  idle  mockeries  of  the  virtues  they  pretend  to, 
and  which  they  have  not ;  but  it  was  not  Swift's  way  to  cant 
morality  or  anything  else ;  nor  did  his  genius  prompt  him  to  write 
unmeaning  panegyrics  on  mankind !  .  .  . 


SWIFT— RABELAIS— VOLTAIRE. 

SWIFT  was  not  a  Frenchman.  In  this  respeet  he  differed  from 
Rabelais  and  Voltaire.  They  have  been  accounted  the  three  greatest 
wits  in  modern  times ;  but  their  wit  was  of  a  peculiar  kind  in  each. 
They  are  little  beholden  to  each  other ;  there  is  some  resemblance 
between  Lord  Peter  in  the  "  Tale  of  a  Tub  "  and  Rabelais'  Friar  John ; 
but  in  general  they  are  all  three  authors  of  a  substantive  character 
in  themselves.  Swift's  wit  (particularly  in  his  chief  prose  works) 
was  serious,  saturnine,  and  practical ;  Rabelais'  was  fantastical  and 
joyous  ;  Voltaire's  was  light,  sportive,  and  verbal.  Swift's  wit  was 
the  wit  of  sense ;  Rabelais',  the  wit  of  nonsense ;  Voltaire's,  of  indif- 
ference to  both.  The  ludicrous  in  Swift  arises  out  of  his  keen  sense 
of  impropriety,  his  soreness  and  impatience  of  the  least  absurdity. 
He  separates  with  a  severe  and  caustic  air  truth  from  falsehood,  folly 
from  wisdom,  "  shows  vice  her  own  image,  scorn  her  own  feature  ; " 
and  it  is  the  force,  the  precision,  and  the  honest  abruptness  with 
which  the  separation  is  made  that  excites  our  surprise,  our  admira- 
tion, and  laughter.  He  sets  a  mark  of  reprobation  on  that  which 
offends  good  sense  and  good  manners  which  cannot  be  mistaken, 
and  which  holds  it  up  to  our  ridicule  and  contempt  ever  after.  His 
occasional  disposition  to  trifling  (already  noticed)  was  a  relaxation 
from  the  excessive  earnestness  of  his  mind.  Indignatio  facit  versus. 
His  better  genius  was  his  spleen.  It  was  the  biting  acrimony  of  his 
temper  that  sharpened  his  other"  faculties.  The  truth  of  his  per- 
ceptions produced  the  pointed  coruscations  of  his  wit ;  his  playful 
irony  was  the  result  of  inward  bitterness  of  thought ;  his  imagina- 
tion was  the  product  of  the  literal,  dry,  incorrigible  tenaciousness 
of  his  understanding.  He  endeavoured  to  escape  from  the  per- 
secution of  realities  into  the  regions  of  fancy,  and  invented  his 
Liliputians  and  Brobdignagians,  Yahoos  and  Houynhyms,  as  a 
diversion  to  the  more  painful  knowledge  of  the  world  around  him : 
they  only  made  him  laugh,  while  men  and  women  made  him  angry. 
His  feverish  impatience  made  him  view  the  infirmities  of  that  great 
baby,  the  world,  with  the  same  scrutinising  glance  and  jealous 


132        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

irritability  that  a  parent  regards  the  failings  of  its  offspring ;  but, 
as  Rousseau  has  well  observed,  parents  have  not  on  this  account 
been  supposed  to  have  more  affection  for  other  people's  children 
than  their  own.  In  other  respects,  and  except  from  the  sparkling 
effervescence  of  his  gall,  Swift's  brain  was  as  "  dry  as  the  remainder 
biscuit  after  a  voyage."  He  hated  absurdity:  Rabelais  loved  it, 
exaggerated  it  with  supreme  satisfaction,  luxuriated  in  its  endless 
varieties,  rioted  in  nonsense,  "reigned  there  and  revelled."  He 
dwelt  on  the  absurd  and  ridiculous  for  the  pleasure  they  gave  him, 
not  for  the  pain.  He  lived  upon  laughter,  and  died  laughing.  He 
indulged  his  vein,  and  took  his  full  swing  of  folly.  He  did  not 
balk  his  fancy  or  his  readers.  His  wit  was  to  him  "  as  riches  fine- 
less  ; "  he  saw  no  end  of  his  wealth  in  that  way,  and  set  no  limits 
to  his  extravagance:  he  was  communicative,  prodigal,  boundless, 
and  inexhaustible.  His  were  the  Saturnalia  of  wit,  the  riches  and 
the  royalty,  the  health  and  long  life.  He  is  intoxicated  with  gaiety, 
mad  with  folly.  His  animal  spirits  drown  him  in  a  flood  of  mirth : 
his  blood  courses  up  and  down  his  veins  like  wine.  His  thirst  of 
enjoyment  is  as  great  as  his  thirst  of  drink :  his  appetite  for  good 
things  of  all  sorts  is  unsatisfied,  and  there  is  a  never-ending  supply. 
Discourse  is  dry ;  so  they  moisten  their  words  in  their  cups,  and 
relish  their  dry  jests  with  plenty  of  Botargos  and  dried  neats'- 
tongues.  It  is  like  Camacho's  wedding  in  "Don  Quixote,"  where 
Sancho  ladled  out  whole  pullets  and  fat  geese  from  the  soup-kettles 
at  a  pull.  The  flagons  are  set  a-running,  their  tongues  wag  at  the 
same  time,  and  their  mirth  flows  as  a  river.  How  Friar  John  roars 
and  lays  about  him  in  the  vineyard !  How  Panurge  whines  in  the 
storm,  and  how  dexterously  he  contrives  to  throw  the  sheep  over- 
board! How  much  Pantagruel  behaves  like  a  wise  king!  How 
Gargantua  mewls,  and  pules,  and  slabbers  his  nurse,  and  demeans 
himself  most  like  a  royal  infant !  what  provinces  he  devours !  what 
seas  he  drinks  up !  How  he  eats,  drinks,  and  sleeps — sleeps,  eats,  and 
drinks !  The  style  of  Rabelais  is  no  less  prodigious  than  his  matter. 
His  words  are  of  marrow — unctuous,  dropping  fatness.  He  was  a  mad 
wag,  the  king  of  good  fellows,  and  prince  of  practical  philosophers  ! 

Rabelais  was  a  Frenchman  of  the  old  school,  Voltaire  of  the  new. 
The  wit  of  the  one  arose  from  an  exuberance  of  enjoyment ;  of  the 
other,  from  an  excess  of  indifference,  real  or  assumed.  Voltaire  had 
no  enthusiasm  for  one  thing  or  another:  he  made  light  of  everything. 
In  his  hands  all  things  turn  to  chaff  and  dross,  as  the  pieces  of  silver 
money  in  the  "  Arabian  Nights  "  were  changed  by  the  hands  of  the 
enchanter  into  little  dry  crumbling  leaves !  He  is  a  Parisian.  He 
never  exaggerates,  is  never  violent :  he  treats  things  with  the  most 


GRAY.  133 

provoking  sang-froid,  and  expresses  his  contempt  by  the  most  in- 
direct hints  and  in  the  fewest  words,  as  if  he  hardly  thought  them 
worth  even  his  contempt.  He  retains  complete  possession  of  him- 
self and  of  his  subject.  He  does  not  effect  his  purpose  by  the 
eagerness  of  his  blows,  but  by  the  delicacy  of  his  tact.  The  poisoned 
wound  he  inflicted  was  so  fine  as  scarcely  to  be  felt  till  it  rankled 
and  festered  in  its  "  mortal  consequences."  His  callousness  was  an 
excellent  foil  for  the  antagonists  he  had  mostly  to  deal  with.  He 
took  knaves  and  fools  on  his  shield  well.  He  stole  away  its  cloak 
from  grave  imposture.  If  he  reduced  other  things  below  their  true 
value,  making  them  seem  worthless  and  hollow,  he  did  not  degrade 
the  pretensions  of  tyranny  and  superstition  below  their  true  value, 
by  making  them  seem  utterly  worthless  and  hollow,  as  contemptible 
as  they  were  odious.  This  was  the  service  he  rendered  to  truth  and 
mankind !  His  "  Candide  "  is  a  masterpiece  of  wit.  It  has  been  called 
"  the  dull  product  of  a  scoffer's  pen."  It  is,  indeed,  "  the  product 
of  a  scoffer's  pen ; "  but  after  reading  the  "  Excursion,"  few  people 
will  think  it  dull.  It  is  in  the  most  perfect  keeping,  and  without 
any  appearance  of  effort.  Every  sentence  tells,  and  the  whole  reads 
like  one  sentence.  .  .  . 

GRAY. 

GRAY'S  "  Elegy  in  a  Country  Churchyard  "  is  one  of  the  most  classical 
productions  that  ever  was  penned  by  a  refined  and  thoughtful  mind, 
moralising  on  human  life.  The  ode  on  a  "  Distant  Prospect  of  Eton 
College  "  is  more  mechanical  and  commonplace ;  but  it  touches  on 
certain  strings  about  the  heart,  that  vibrate  in  unison  with  it  to  our 
latest  breath.  No  one  ever  passes  by  Windsor's  "  stately  heights,"  or 
sees  the  distant  spires  of  Eton  College  below,  without  thinking  of  Gray. 
He  deserves  that  we  should  think  of  him ;  for  he  thought  of  others, 
and  turned  a  trembling,  ever-watchful  ear  to  "  the  still  sad  music  of 
humanity."  His  Letters  are  inimitably  fine.  If  his  poems  are  some- 
times finical  and  pedantic,  his  prose  is  quite  free  from  affectation.  He 
pours  his  thoughts  out  upon  paper  as  they  arise  in  his  mind ;  and  they 
arise  in  his  mind  without  pretence  or  constraint,  from  the  pure  im- 
pulse of  learned  leisure  and  contemplative  indolence.  He  is  not  here 
on  stilts  or  in  buckram,  but  smiles  in  his  easy-chair,  as  he  moralises 
through  the  loopholes  of  retreat,  on  the  bustle  and  raree-show  of  the 
world,  or  on  "  those  reverend  bedlams,  colleges  and  schools  !  "  He 
had  nothing  to  do  but  to  read  and  to  think,  and  to  tell  his  friends 
what  he  read  and  thought.  His  life  was  a  luxurious,  thoughtful 
dream.  "  Be  mine,"  he  says  in  one  of  his  Letters,  "  to  read  eternal 


134        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

new  romances  of  Marivaux  and  Crebillon."  And  in  another,  to 
show  his  contempt  for  action  and  the  turmoils  of  ambition,  he  says 

to  some  one,  "  Don't  you  remember  Lords  and ,  who  are 

now  great  statesmen,  little  dirty  boys  playing  at  cricket  ?  For  my 
part,  I  do  not  feel  a  bit  wiser,  or  bigger  or  older,  than  I  did  then." 
What  an  equivalent  for  not  being  wise  or  great,  to  be  always  young  ! 
What  a  happiness  never  to  lose  or  gain  anything  in  the  game  of 
human  life,  by  being  never  anything  more  than  a  looker-on ! 


GOLDSMITH. 

THE  principal  name  of  the  period  we  are  now  come  to  is  that  of 
Goldsmith,  than  which  few  names  stand  higher  or  fairer  in  the 
annals  of  modern  literature.  One  should  have  his  own  pen  to 
describe  him  as  he  ought  to  be  described:  amiable,  various,  and 
bland,  with  careless  inimitable  grace  touching  on  every  kind  of 
excellence :  with  manners  unstudied,  but  a  gentle  heart :  perform- 
ing miracles  of  skill  from  pure  happiness  of  nature,  and  whose 
greatest  fault  was  ignorance  of  his  own  worth.  As  a  poet,  he  is  the 
most  flowing  and  elegant  of  our  versifiers  since  Pope,  with  traits  of 
artless  nature  which  Pope  had  not,  and  with  a  peculiar  felicity  in 
his  turns  upon  words,  which  he  constantly  repeated  with  delightful 

effect,  such  as : 

"  His  lot,  though  small, 

He  sees  that  little  lot,  the  lot  of  all."    - 

"  And  turn'd  and  look'd,  and  turn'd  to  look  again." 

As  a  novelist,  his  "  Vicar  of  Wakefield  "  has  charmed  all  Europe. 
What  reader  is  there  in  the  civilised  world  who  is  not  the  better  for 
the  story  of  the  washes  which  the  worthy  Dr.  Primrose  demolished  so 
deliberately  with  the  poker — for  the  knowledge  of  the  guinea  which 
the  Miss  Primroses  kept  unchanged  in  their  pockets — the  adventure 
of  the  picture  of  the  Vicar's  family,  which  could  not  be  got  into  the 
house — and  that  of  the  Flamborough  family,  all  painted  with  oranges 
in  their  hands — or  for  the  story  of  the  case  of  shagreen  spectacles 
and  the  cosmogony  ? 

As  a  comic  writer,  his  "  Tony  Lumpkin  "  draws  forth  new  powers 
from  Mr.  Liston's  face.  That  alone  is  praise  enough  for  it.  Poor 
Goldsmith !  how  happy  he  has  made  others !  how  unhappy  he  was 
in  himself !  He  never  had  the  pleasure  of  reading  his  own  works ! 
He  had  only  the  satisfaction  of  good-naturedly  relieving  the  neces- 
sities of  others,  and  the  consolation  of  being  harassed  to  death  with 
his  own !  He  is  the  most  amusing  and  interesting  person  in  one 


BURNS.  135 

of  the  most  amusing  and  interesting  books  in  the  world,  Boswell's 
"  Life  of  Johnson."  His  peach-coloured  coat  shall  always  bloom  in 
Boswell's  writings,  and  his  fame  survive  in  his  own  !  His  genius 
was  a  mixture  of  originality  and  imitation :  he  could  do  nothing 
without  some  model  before  him,  and  he  could  copy  nothing  that 
he  did  not  adorn  with  the  graces  of  his  own  mind.  Almost  all  the 
latter  part  of  the  "  Vicar  of  Wakefield,"  and  a  great  deal  of  the  former, 
is  taken  from  "Joseph  Andrews ;  "  but  the  circumstances  I  have  men- 
tioned above  are  not.  The  finest  things  he  has  left  behind  him  in 
verse  are  his  character  of  a  country  schoolmaster,  and  that  prophetic 
description  of  Burke  in  the  "  Retaliation."  His  moral  Essays  in  the 
"  Citizen  of  the  World  "  are  as  agreeable  chit-chat  as  can  be  con- 
veyed in  the  form  of  didactic  discourses. 

BURNS. 

BURNS  the  poet  had  a  strong  mind,  and  a  strong  body,  the  fellow  to 
it.  He  had  a  real  heart  of  flesh  and  blood  beating  in  his  bosom — you 
can  almost  hear  it  throb.  Some  one  said,  that  if  you  had  shaken 
hands  with  him,  his  hands  would  have  burnt  yours.  The  Gods 
indeed  "  made  him  poetieal ; "  but  Nature  had  a  hand  in  him  first. 
His  heart  was  in  the  right  place.  He  did  not  "  create  a  soul  under 
the  ribs  of  death,"  by  tinkling  siren  sounds,  or  by  piling  up  centos  of 
poetical  diction ;  but  for  the  artificial  flowers  of  poetry,  he  plucked 
the  mountain-daisy  under  his  feet;  and  a  field-mouse,  hurrying 
from  its  ruined  dwelling,  could  inspire  him  with  the  sentiments  of 
terror  and  pity.  He  held  the  plough  or  the  pen  with  the  same  firm, 
manly  grasp ;  nor  did  he  cut  out  poetry  as  we  cut  out  watch-papers, 
with  finical  dexterity,  nor  from  the  same  flimsy  materials.  Burns 
was  not  like  Shakspeare  in  the  range  of  his  genius;  but  there  is 
something  of  the  same  magnanimity,  directness,  and  unaffected 
character  about  him.  He  was  not  a  sickly  sentimentalist,  a  namby- 
pamby  poet,  a  mincing  metre  ballad-monger,  any  more  than  Shak- 
speare. He  would  as  soon  hear  "  a  brazen  candlestick  tuned,  or  a 
dry  wheel  grate  on  the  axletree."  He  was  as  much  of  a  man,  not  a 
twentieth  part  as  much  of  a  poet,  as  Shakspeare.  With  but  little 
of  his  imagination  or  inventive  power,  he  had  the  same  life  of  mind : 
within  the  narrow  circle  of  personal  feeling  or  domestic  incidents, 
the  pulse  of  his  poetry  flows  as  healthily  and  vigorously.  He  had 
an  eye  to  see,  a  heart  to  feel: — no  more.  His  pictures  of  good- 
fellowship,  of  social  glee,  of  quaint  humour,  are  equal  to  anything ; 
they  come  up  to  nature,  and  they  cannot  go  beyond  it.  The  sly 
jest  collected  in  his  laughing  eye  at  the  sight  of  the  grotesque  and 


136         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

ludicrous  in  manners ;  the  large  tear  rolled  down  his  manly  cheek 
at  the  sight  of  another's  distress.  He  has  made  us  as  well 
acquainted  with  himself  as  it  is  possible  to  be,  has  let  out  the 
honest  impulses  of  his  native  disposition,  the  unequal  conflict  of 
the  passions  in  his  breast,  with  the  same  frankness  and  truth  of 
description.  His  strength  is  not  greater  than  his  weakness;  his 
virtues  were  greater  than  his  vices.  His  virtues  belonged  to  his 
genius :  his  vices  to  his  situation,  which  did  not  correspond  to  his 
genius.  .  .  . 

One  would  think  that  nothing  could  surpass  his  songs  in  beauty 
of  expression  and  in  true  pathos;  and  nothing  does  or  can,  but 
some  of  the  old  Scotch  ballads  themselves.  There  is  in  them  a  still 
more  original  cast  of  thought,  a  more  romantic  imagery — the  thistle's 
glittering  down,  the  gilliflower  on  the  old  garden-wall,  the  horse- 
man's silver  bells,  the  hawk  on  its  perch:  a  closer  intimacy  with 
nature,  a  firmer  reliance  on  it,  as  the  only  stock  of  wealth  which 
the  mind  has  to  resort  to,  a  more  infantine  simplicity  of  manners, 
a  greater  strength  of  affection,  hopes  longer  cherished  and  longer 
deferred,  sighs  that  the  heart  dare  hardly  heave,  and  "  thoughts  that 
often  lie  too  deep  for  tears."  We  seem  to  feel  that  those  who 
wrote  and  sang  them  (the  early  minstrels)  lived  in  the  open  air, 
wandering  on  from  place  to  place  with  restless  feet  and  thoughts, 
and  lending  an  ever-open  ear  to  the  fearful  accidents  of  war  or  love, 
floating  on  the  breath  of  old  tradition  or  common  fame,  and  moving 
the  strings  of  their  harp  with  sounds  that  sank  into  a  nation's  heart. 
How  fine  an  illustration  of  this  is  that  passage  in  "  Don  Quixote " 
where  the  knight  and  Sancho,  going  in  search  of  Dulcinea,  inquire 
their  way  of  the  countryman  who  was  driving  his  mules  to  plough 
before  break  of  day,  "  singing  the  ancient  ballad  of  Roncesvalles ! " 

BYRON. 

LORD  BYRON  shuts  himself  up  too  much  in  the  impenetrable  gloom 
of  his  own  thoughts,  and  buries  the  natural  light  of  things  in  "  nook 
monastic."  The  "  Giaour,"  the  "  Corsair,"  "  Childe  Harold,"  are  all  the 
same  person,  and  they  are  apparently  all  himself.  The  everlasting  repe- 
tition of  one  subject,  the  same  dark  ground  of  fiction,  with  the  darker 
colours  of  the  poet's  mind  spread  over  it,  the  unceasing  accumula- 
tion of  horrors  on  horror's  head,  steels  the  mind  against  the  sense 
of  pain,  as  inevitably  as  the  unwearied  Siren  sounds  and  luxurious 
monotony  of  Mr.  Moore's  poetry  make  it  inaccessible  to  pleasure. 
Lord  Byron's  poetry  is  as  morbid  as  Mr.  Moore's  is  careless  and 
dissipated.  He  has  more  depth  of  passion,  more  force  and  im- 


SCOTT.  137 

petuosity,  but  the  passion  is  always  of  the  same  unaccountable 
character,  at  once  violent  and  sullen,  fierce  and  gloomy.  It  is  not 
the  passion  of  a  mind  struggling  with  misfortune  or  the  hopeless- 
ness of  its  desires,  but  of  a  mind  preying  upon  itself,  and  disgusted 
with,  or  indifferent  to,  all  other  things.  There  is  nothing  less 
poetical  than  this  sort  of  unaccommodating  selfishness.  There  is 
nothing  more  repulsive  than  this  sort  of  ideal  absorption  of  all 
the  interests  of  others,  of  the  good  and  ills  of  life,  in  the  ruling 
passion  and  moody  abstraction  of  a  single  mind,  as  if  it  would  make 
itself  the  centre  of  the  universe,  and  there  was  nothing  worth 
cherishing  but  its  intellectual  diseases.  It  is  like  a  cancer  eating 
into  the  heart  of  poetry.  But  still  there  is  power ;  and  power 
rivets  attention  and  forces  admiration.  "  He  hath  a  demon ; "  and 
that  is  the  next  thing  to  being  full  of  the  God.  His  brow  collects 
the  scattered  gloom ;  his  eye  flashes  livid  fire  that  withers  and  con- 
sumes. But  still  we  watch  the  progress  of  the  scathing  bolt  with 
interest,  and  mark  the  ruin  it  leaves  behind  with  awe.  Within  the 
contracted  range  of  his  imagination,  he  has  great  unity  and  truth 
of  keeping.  He  chooses  elements  and  agents  congenial  to  his  mind : 
the  dark  and  glittering  ocean,  the  frail  bark  hurrying  before  the 
storm,  pirates,  and  men  that  "house  on  the  wild  sea  with  wild 
usages."  He  gives  the  tumultuous  eagerness  of  action  and  the 
fixed  despair  of  thought.  In  vigour  of  style  and  force  of  concep- 
tion he  in  one  sense  surpasses  every  writer  of  the  present  day.  His 
indignant  apothegms  are  like  oracles  of  misanthropy.  He  who 
wishes  for  "  a  curse  to  kill  with "  may  find  it  in  Lord  Byron's 
writings.  Yet  he  has  beauty  lurking  underneath  his  strength, 
tenderness  sometimes  joined  with  the  frenzy  of  despair.  A  flash 
of  golden  light  sometimes  follows  from  a  stroke  of  his  pencil,  like 
a  falling  meteor.  The  flowers  that  adorn  his  poetry  bloom  over 
charnel-houses  and  the  grave !  .  .  . 

SCOTT. 

WALTER  SCOTT  is  the  most  popular  of  all  the  poets  of  the  present 
day,  and  deservedly  so.  He  describes  that  which  is  most  easily  and 
generally  understood  with  more  vivacity  and  effect  than  anybody 
else.  He  has  no  excellences,  either  of  a  lofty  or  recondite  kind, 
which  lie  beyond  the  reach  of  the  most  ordinary  capacity  to  find 
out ;  but  he  has  all  the  good  qualities  which  all  the  world  agree  to 
understand.  His  style  is  clear,  flowing,  and  transparent :  his  senti- 
ments, of  which  his  style  is  an  easy  and  natural  medium,  are  com- 
mon to  him  with  his  readers.  He  has  none  of  Mr.  Wordsworth's 


138         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

idiosyncrasy.  He  differs  from  his  readers  only  in  a  greater  range 
of  knowledge  and  facility  of  expression.  His  poetry  belongs  to  the 
class  of  improvisatore  poetry.  It  has  neither  depth,  height,  nor 
breadth  in  it;  neither  uncommon  strength  nor  uncommon  refine- 
ment of  thought,  sentiment,  or  language.  It  has  no  originality. 
But  if  this  author  has  no  research,  no  moving  power  in  his  own 
breast,  he  relies  with  the  greater  safety  and  success  on  the  force  of 
his  subject.  He  selects  a  story  such  as  is  sure  to  please,  full  of 
incidents,  characters,  peculiar  manners,  costume,  and  scenery ;  and 
he  tells  it  in  a  way  that  can  offend  no  one.  He  never  wearies  or 
disappoints  you.  He  is  communicative  and  garrulous;  but  he  is 
not  his  own  hero.  He  never  obtrudes  himself  on  your  notice  to 
prevent  your  seeing  the  subject.  What  passes  in  the  poem,  passes 
much  as  it  would  have  done  in  reality.  The  author  has  little  or 
nothing  to  do  with  it.  Mr.  Scott  has  great  intuitive  power  of 
fancy,  great  vividness  of  pencil  in  placing  external  objects  and 
events  before  the  eye.  The  force  of  his  mind  is  picturesque  rathef 
than  moral.  He  gives  more  of  the  features  of  nature  than  the  soul 
of  passion.  He  conveys  the  distinct  outlines  and  visible  changes 
in  outward  objects,  rather  than  "their  mortal  consequences."  He 
is  very  inferior  to  Lord  Byron  in  intense  passion,  to  Moore  in 
delightful  fancy,  to  Mr.  Wordsworth  in  profound  sentiment;  but 
he  has  more  picturesque  power  than  any  of  them ;  that  is,  he  places 
the  objects  themselves,  about  which  they  might  feel  and  think,  in 
a  much  more  striking  point  of  view,  with  greater  variety  of  dress 
and  attitude,  and  with  more  local  truth  of  colouring.  His  imagery 
is  Gothic  and  grotesque.  The  manners  and  actions  have  the  interest 
and  curiosity  belonging  to  a  wild  country  and  a  distant  period  of 
time.  Few  descriptions  have  a  more  complete  reality,  a  more 
striking  appearance  of  life  and  motion,  than  that  of  the  warriors  in 
the  "  Lady  of  the  Lake,"  who  start  up  at  the  command  of  Rhoderic 
Dhu  from  their  concealment  under  the  fern,  and  disappear  again  in 
an  instant.  The  "  Lay  of  the  Last  Minstrel "  and  "  Marmion  "  are 
the  first,  and  perhaps  the  best,  of  his  works.  .  .  . 

WORDSWORTH. 

MR.  WORDSWORTH  is  the  most  original  poet  now  living.  He  is 
the  reverse  of  Walter  Scott  in  his  defects  and  excellences.  He 
has  nearly  all  that  the  other  wants,  and  wants  all  that  the  other 
possesses.  His  poetry  is  not  external,  but  internal;  it  does  not 
depend  upon  tradition,  or  story,  or  old  song ;  he  furnishes  it  from 
his  own  mind,  and  is  his  own  subject.  He  is  the  poet  of  mere  senti- 


WORDSWORTH.  130 

ment.  Of  many  of  the  "  Lyrical  Ballads  "  it  is  not  possible  to  speak 
in  terms  of  too  high  praise,  such  as  "  Hart-leap  Well,"  the  "  Banks  of 
the  Wye,"  "  Poor  Susan,"  parts  of  the  "  Leech-gatherer,"  the  "  Lines 
t®  a  Cuckoo,"  "  to  a  Daisy,"  the  "  Complaint,"  several  of  the  Sonnets, 
and  a  hundred  others  of  inconceivable  beauty,  of  perfect  originality 
and  pathos.  They  open  a  finer  and  deeper  vein  of  thought  and  feel- 
ing than  any  poet  in  modern  times  has  done,  or  attempted.  He  has 
produced  a  deeper  impression,  and  on  a  smaller  circle,  than  any 
other  of  his  contemporaries.  His  powers  have  been  mistaken  by 
the  age,  nor  does  he  exactly  understand  them  himself.  He  cannot 
form  a  whole.  He  has  not  the  constructive  faculty.  He  can  give 
only  the  fine  tones  of  thought,  drawn  from  his  mind  by  accident  or 
nature,  like  the  sounds  drawn  from  the  ^Eolian  harp  by  the  wander- 
ing gale.  He  is  totally  deficient  in  all  the  machinery  of  poetry. 
His  "  Excursion,"  taken  as  a  whole,  notwithstanding  the  noble  mate- 
rials thrown  away  in  it,  is  a  proof  of  this.  The  line  labours,  the 
sentiment  moves  slow ;  but  the  poem  stands  stock-still.  The  reader 
makes  no  way  from  the  first  line  to  the  last.  It  is  more  than  any- 
thing in  the  world  like  Robinson  Crusoe's  boat,  which  would  have 
been  an  excellent  good  boat,  and  would  have  carried  him  to  the 
other  side  of  the  globe,  but  that  he  could  not  get  it  out  of  the 
sand  where  it  stuck  fast.  I  did  what  little  I  could  to  help  to  launch 
it  at  the  time,  but  it  would  not  do.  I  am  not,  however,  one  of 
those  who  laugh  at  the  attempts  or  failures  of  men  of  genius.  It 
is  not  my  way  to  cry,  "  Long  life  to  the  conqueror ! "  Success  and 
desert  are  not  with  me  synonymous  terms ;  and  the  less  Mr.  Words- 
worth's general  merits  have  been  understood,  the  more  necessary  is 
it  to  insist  upon  them.  This  is  not  the  place  to  repeat  what  I  have 
already  said  on  the  subject.  The  reader  may  turn  to  it  in  the 
"  Bound  Table."  I  do  not  think,  however,  there  is  anything  in  the 
larger  poem  equal  to  many  of  the  detached  pieces  in  the  "  Lyrical 
Ballads."  As  Mr.  Wordsworth's  poems  have  been  little  known  to 
the  public,  or  chiefly  through  garbled  extracts  from  them,  I  will 
here  give  an  entire  poem, ."  Hart-Leap  Well "  (one  that  has  always 
been  a  favourite  with  me),  that  the  reader  may  know  what  it  is  that 
the  admirers  of  this  author  find  to  be  delighted  with  in  his  poetry. 
Those  who  do  not  feel  the  beauty  and  tiie  force  of  it  may  savo 
themselves  the  trouble  of  inquiring  further. 


140        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 


[Lectures  on  the  English  Comic  Writers,  1819.     Four  Editions  of  this 
work  have  been  published.] 

I  SHALL  conclude  this  imperfect  and  desultory  sketch  of  wit  and 
humour  with  Barrow's  celebrated  description  of  the  same  snbject. 
He  says : — "But  first  it  may  be  demanded,  what  the  thing  we  speak 
of  •  is,  or  what  this  facetiousness  doth  import ;  to  which  question  I 
might  reply,  as  Democritus  did  to  him  that  asked  the  definition  of  a 
man — 'tin  that  which  we  all  see  and  know ;  and  one  better  apprehends 
what  it  is  by  acquaintance,  than  I  can  inform  him  by  description.  It 
is,  indeed,  a  thing  so  versatile  and  multiform,  appearing  in  so  many 
shapes,  so  many  postures,  so  many  garbs,  so  variously  apprehended  by 
several  eyes  and  judgments,  that  it  seemeth  no  less  hard  to  settle  a 
clear  and  certain  notice  thereof,  than  to  make  a  portrait  of  Proteus, 
or  to  define  the  figure  of  fleeting  air.  Sometimes  it  lieth  in  pat 
allusion  to  a  known  story,  or  in  seasonable  application  of  a  trivial 
saying,  or  in  forging  an  apposite  tale :  sometimes  it  playeth  in  words 
and  phrases,  taking  advantage  from  the  ambiguity  of  their  sense, 
or  the  affinity  of  their  sound :  sometimes  it  is  wrapped  in  a  dress 
of  luminous  expression :  sometimes  it  lurketh  under  an  odd  simili- 
tude. Sometimes  it  is  lodged  in  a  sly  question,  in  a  smart  answer ; 
in  a  quirkish  reason ;  in  a  shrewd  intimation ;  in  cunningly  diverting 
or  cleverly  restoring  an  objection  :  sometimes  it  is  couched  in  a  bold 
scheme  of  speech ;  in  a  tart  irony ;  in  a  lusty  hyperbole ;  in  a  start- 
ling metaphor ;  in  a  plausible  reconciling  of  contradictions,  or  in 
acute  nonsense :  sometimes  a  scenical  representation  of  persons  or 
things,  a  counterfeit  speech,  a  mimical  look  or  gesture  passeth 
for  it ;  sometimes  an  affected  simplicity,  sometimes  a  presumptuous 
bluntness  giveth  it  being;  sometimes  it  riseth  only  from  a  lucky 
hitting  upon  what  is  strange :  sometimes  from  a  crafty  wresting 
obvious  matter  to  the  purpose :  often  it  consisteth  in  one  knows 
not  what,  and  springeth  up  one  can  hardly  tell  how.  Its  ways  are 
unaccountable  and  inexplicable,  being  answerable  to  the  numberless 
rovings  of  fancy  and  windings  of  language.  It  is,  in  short,  a  manner 
of  speaking  out  of  the  simple  and  plain  way  (such  as  reason  teacheth 
and  knoweth  things  by),  which  by  a  pretty  surprising  uncouthness 
in  conceit  or  expression  doth  affect  and  amuse  the  fancy,  showing 
in  it  some  wonder,  and  breathing  some  delight  thereto.  It  raiseth 
admiration,  as  signifying  a  nimble  sagacity  of  apprehension,  a 
special  felicity  of  invention,  a  vivacity  of  spirit,  and  reach  of  wit 
more  than  vulgar :  it  seeming  to  argue  a  rare  quickness  of  parts, 
that  one  can  fetch  in  remote  conceits  applicable;  a  notable  skill 


ENGLISH  COMEDY.  141 

that  he  can  dexterously  accommodate  them  to  a  purposfi  before  him, 
together  with  a  lively  briskness  of  humour,  not  apt  to  damp  those 
sportful  flashes  of  imagination.  (Whence  in  Aristotle  such  persons 
are  termed  eiri5e£ioi,  dexterous  men  and  ewrpoiroi,  men  of  facile  or 
versatile  manners,  who  can  easily  turn  themselves  to  all  things,  or 
turn  all  things  to  themselves.)  It  also  procureth  delight  by  gratify- 
ing curiosity  with  its  rareness  or  semblance  of  difficulty  (as  monsters, 
not  for  their  beauty  but  their  rarity;  as  juggling  tricks,  not  for 
their  use  but  their  abstruseness,  are  beheld  with  pleasure) ;  by 
diverting  the  mind  from  its  road  of  serious  thoughts ;  by  instilling 
gaiety  and  airiness  of  spirit ;  by  provoking  to  such  dispositions  of 
spirit,  in  way  of  emulation  or  complaisance,  and  by  seasoning 
matter,  otherwise  distasteful  or  insipid,  with  an  unusual  and  thence 
grateful  tang."  .  .  . 

ENGLISH  COMEDY. 

COMEDY  is  a  "  graceful  ornament  to  the  civil  order ;  the  Corinthian 
capital  of  polished  society."  Like  the  mirrors  which  have  been 
added  to  the  sides  of  one  of  our  theatres,  it  reflects  the  images  of 
grace,  of  gaiety,  and  pleasure  double,  and  completes  the  perspective 
of  human  life.  To  read  a  good  comedy  is  to  keep  the  best  company 
in  the  world,  where  the  best  things  are  said  and  the  most  amusing 
happen.  The  wittiest  remarks  are  always  ready  on  the  tongue,  and 
the  luckiest  occasions  are  always  at  hand  to  give  birth  to  the  happiest 
conceptions.  Sense  makes  strange  havoc  of  nonsense.  Refinement 
acts  as  a  foil  to  affectation,  and  affectation  to  ignorance.  Sentence 
after  sentence  tells.  We  don't  know  which  to  admire  most,  the 
observation  or  the  answer  to  it.  We  would  give  our  fingers  to  be 
able  to  talk  so  ourselves,  or  to  hear  others  talk  so.  In  turning 
over  the  pages  of  the  best  comedies,  we  are  almost  transported  to 
another  world,  and  escape  from  this  dull  age  to  one  that  was  all 
life,  and  whim,  and  mirth,  and  humour.  The  curtain  rises,  and  a 
gayer  scene  presents  itself,  as  on  the  canvas  of  Watteau.  We  are 
admitted  behind  the  scenes  like  spectators  at  court,  on  a  levee  or 
birthday ;  but  it  is  the  court,  the  gala-day  of  wit  and  pleasure,  of 
gallantry  and  Charles  II. !  What  an  air  breathes  from  the  name ! 
what  a  rustling  of  silks  and  waving  of  plumes !  what  a  sparkling  of 
diamond  earrings  and  shoe-buckles !  What  bright  eyes !  (Ah,  those 
were  Waller's  Sacharissa's  as  she  passed !)  what  killing  looks  and 
graceful  motions !  How  the  faces  of  the  whole  ring  are  dressed  in 
smiles  1  how  the  repartee  goes  round !  how  wit  and  folly,  elegance 
and  awkward  imitation  of  it,  set  one  another  off!  Happy,  thought- 


142         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

less  age,  when  kings  and  nobles  led  purely  ornamental  lives ;  when 
the  utmost  stretch  of  a  morning's  study  went  no  further  than  the 
choice  of  a  sword-knot  or  the  adjustment  of  a  side-curl ;  when  the 
soul  spoke  out  in  all  the  pleasing  eloquence  of  dress ;  and  beaux  and 
belles,  enamoured  of  themselves  in  one  another's  follies,  fluttered 
like  gilded  butterflies,  in  giddy  mazes,  through  the  walks  of  St. 
James's  Park ! 

The  four  principal  writers  of  this  style  of  comedy  (which  I  think 
the  best)  are  undoubtedly  Wycherley,  Congreve,  Vanbrugh,  and 
Farquhar.  The  dawn  was  in  Etherege,  as  its  latest  close  was  in 
Sheridan.  It  is  hard  to  say  which  of  these  four  is  best,  or  in  what 
eacli  of  them  excels,  they  had  so  many  and  such  great  excellences. 

Congreve  is  the  most  distinct  from  the  others,  and  the  most 
easily  denned,  both  from  what  he  possessed  and  from  what  he 
wanted.  He  had  by  far  the  most  wit  and  elegance,  with  less  of 
other  things,  of  humour,  character,  incident,  &c.  His  style  is 
inimitable,  nay,  perfect.  It  is  the  highest  model  of  comic  dialogue. 
Every  sentence  is  replete  with  sense  and  satire,  conveyed  in  the 
most  polished  and  pointed  terms.  Every  page  presents  a  shower  of 
brilliant  conceits,  is  a  tissue  of  epigrams  in  prose,  is  a  new  triumph 
of  wit,  a  new  conquest  over  dulness.  The  fire  of  artful  raillery  is 
nowhere  else  so  well  kept  up.  This  style,  which  he  was  almost  the 
first  to  introduce,  and  which  he  carried  to  the  utmost  pitch  of 
classical  refinement,  reminds  one  exactly  of  Collins's  description  of 
wit  as  opposed  to  humour : 

"  Whose  jewels  in  his  crisped  hair 
Are  placed  each  other's  light  to  share." 

Sheridan  will  not  bear  a  comparison  with  him  in  the  regular  anti- 
thetical construction  of  his  sentences,  and  in  the  mechanical  artifices 
of  his  style,  though  so  much  later,  and  though  style  in  general  has 
been  so  much  studied,  and  in  the  mechanical  part  so  much  improved 
since  then.  It  bears  every  mark  of  being  what  he  himself  in  the 
dedication  of  one  of  his  plays  tells  us  that  it  was,  a  spirited  copy 
taken  off  and  carefully  revised  from  the  most  select  society  of  his 
time,  exhibiting  all  the  sprightliness,  ease,  and  animation  of  familiar 
conversation,  with  the  correctness  and  delicacy  of  the  most  finished 
composition.  His  works  are  a  singular  treat  to  those  who  have 
cultivated  a  taste  for  the  niceties  of  English  style :  there  is  a  peculiar 
flavour  in  the  very  words,  which  is  to  be  found  in  hardly  any  other 
writer.  To  the  mere  reader  his  writings  would  be  an  irreparable 
loss :  to  the  stage  they  are  already  become  a  dead  letter,  with  the 
exception  of  one  of  them,  "  Love  for  Love."  This  play  is  as  full  of 


THE  PERIODICAL  ESSAYISTS.  143 

character,  incident,  and  stage-effect  as  almost  any  of  those  of  his 
contemporaries,  and  fuller  of  wit  than  any  of  his  own,  except  perhaps 
the  "  Way  of  the  World."  It  still  acts,  and  is  still  acted  well.  The 
effect  of  it  is  prodigious  on  the  well-informed  spectator.  .  .  . 

Wycherley  was  before  Congreve;  and  his  "Country  Wife"  will 
last  longer  than  anything  of  Congreve's  as  a  popular  acting  play. 
It  is  only  a  pity  that  it  is  not  entirely  his  own,  but  it  is  enough  so 
to  do  him  never-ceasing  honour,  for  the  best  things  are  his  own.  His 
humour  is,  in  general,  broader,  his  characters  more  natural,  and  his 
incidents  more  striking  than  Congreve's.  It  may  be  said  of  Con- 
greve, that  the  workmanship  overlays  the  materials :  in  Wycherley, 
the  casting  of  the  parts  and  the  fable  are  alone  sufficient  to  ensure 
success.  We  forget  Congreve's  characters,  and  only  remember  what 
they  say :  we  remember  Wycherley's  characters,  and  the  incidents 
they  meet  with,  just  as  if  they  were  real,  and  forget  what  they  say, 
comparatively  speaking.  Miss  Peggy  (or  Mrs.  Margery  Pinchwife) 
is  a  character  that  will  last  for  ever,  I  should  hope ;  and  even  when 
the  original  is  no  more,  if  that  should  ever  be,  while  self-will, 
curiosity,  art,  and  ignorance  are  to  be  found  in  the  same  person,  it 
will  be  just  as  good  and  as  intelligible  as  ever  in  the  description, 
because  it  is  built  on  first  principles,  and  brought  out  in  the  fullest 
and  broadest  manner.  . 


THE  PERIODICAL  ESSAYISTS. 

"The  proper  study  of  mankind  is  man." 

I  NOW  come  to  speak  of  that  sort  of  writing  which  has  been  so 
successfully  cultivated  in  this  country  by  our  periodical  Essayists, 
and  which  consists  in  applying  the  talents  and  resources  of  the 
mind  to  all  that  mixed  mass  of  human  affairs  which,  though  not 
included  under  the  head  of  any  regular  art,  science,  or  profession, 
falls  under  the  cognisance  of  the  writer,  and  "  comes  home  to  the 
business  and  bosoms  of  men." 

Quicquid  agunt  homines  nostri  farrago  libelli, 

is  the  general  motto  of  this  department  of  literature.  It  does  not 
treat  of  minerals  or  fossils,  of  the  virtues  of  plants  or  the  influence 
of  planets ;  it  does  not  meddle  with  forms  of  belief  or  systems  of 

o 


I44        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC 

philosophy,  nor  launch  into  the  world  of  spiritual  existences ;  but 
it  makes  familiar  with  the  world  of  men  and  women,  records  their 
actions,  assigns  their  motives,  exhibits  their  whims,  characterises 
their  pursuits  in  all  their  singular  and  endless  variety,  ridicules  their 
absurdities,  exposes  their  inconsistencies,  "  holds  the  mirror  up  to 
nature,  and  shows  the  very  age  and  body  of  the  time,  its  form  and 
pressure ; "  takes  minutes  of  our  dress,  air,  looks,  words,  thoughts, 
and  actions;  shows  us  what  we  are,  and  what  we  are  not;  plays 
the  whole  game  of  human  life  over  before  us,  and  by  making  us 
enlightened  spectators  of  its  many-coloured  scenes,  enables  us  (if 
possible)  to  become  tolerably  reasonable  agents  in  the  one  in  which 
we  have  to  perform  a  part.  "  The  act  and  practic  part  of  life  is 
thus  made  the  mistress  of  our  theorique."  It  is  the  best  and  most 
natural  course  of  study.  It  is  in  morals  and  manners  what  the 
experimental  is  in  natural  philosophy,  as  opposed  to  the  dogmatical 
method.  It  does  not  deal  in  sweeping  clauses  of  proscription  and 
anathema,  but  in  nice  distinctions  and  liberal  constructions.  It 
makes  up  its  general  accounts  from  details,  its  few  theories  from 
many  facts.  It  does  not  try  to  prove  all  black  or  all  white  as  it 
wishes,  but  lays  on  the  intermediate  colours  (and  most  of  them  not 
unpleasing  ones),  as  it  finds  them  blended  with  "  the  web  of  our  life, 
which  is  of  a  mingled  yarn,  good  and  ill  together."  It  inquires 
what  human  life  is  and  has  been,  to  show  what  it  ought  to  be.  It 
follows  it  into  courts  and  camps,  into  town  and  country,  into  rustic 
sports  or  learned  disputations,  into  the  various  shades  of  prejudice 
or  ignorance,  of  refinement  or  barbarism,  into  its  private  haunts  or 
public  pageants,  into  its  weaknesses  and  littlenesses,  its  professions 
and  its  practices :  before  it  pretends  to  distinguish  right  from  wrong, 
or  one  thing  from  another.  How,  indeed,  should  it  do  so  other- 
wise? 

"  Quid  sit  pulchrum,  quid  turpe,  quid  utile,  quid  non, 
Plenius  et  melius  Chrysippo  et  Crantore  dicit." 

The  writers  I  speak  of  are,  if  not  moral  philosophers,  moral  historians, 
and  that's  better :  or  if  they  are  both,  they  found  the  one  character 
upon  the  other ;  their  premises  precede  their  conclusions ;  and  we 
put  faith  in  their  testimony,  for  we  know  that  it  is  true. 


MONTAIGNE. 

MONTAIGNE  was  the  first  person  who  in  his  "Essays"  led  the  way 
to  this  kind  of  writing  among  the  moderns.  The  great  merit  of 
Montaigne,  then,  was  that  he  may  be  said  to  have  been  the  first 


MONTAIGNE.  145 

who  had  the  courage  to  say  as  an  author  what  he  felt  as  a  man. 
And  as  courage  is  generally  the  effect  of  conscious  strength,  he  was 
probably  led  to  do  so  by  the  richness,  truth,  and  force  of  his  own 
observations  on  books  and  men.  He  was,  in  the  truest  sense,  a 
man  of  original  mind;  that  is,  he  had  the  power  of  looking  at 
things  for  himself,  or  as  they  really  were,  instead  of  blindly  trusting 
to  and  fondly  repeating  what  others  told  him  that  they  were.  He 
got  rid  of  the  go-cart  of  prejudice  and  affectation,  with  the  learned 
lumber  that  follows  at  their  heels,  because  he  could  do  without  them. 
In  taking  up  his  pen  he  did  not  set  up  for  a  philosopher,  wit,  orator, 
or  moralist,  but  he  became  all  these  by  merely  daring  to  tell  us 
whatever  passed  through  his  mind,  in  its  naked  simplicity  and  force, 
that  he  thought  anyways  worth  communicating.  He  did  not,  in  the 
abstract  character  of  an  author,  undertake  to  say  all  that  could  be 
said  upon  a  subject,  but  what  in  his  capacity  as  an  inquirer  after 
truth  he  happened  to  know  about  it.  He  was  neither  a  pedant  nor 
a  bigot.  He  neither  supposed  that  he  was  bound  to  know  all  things, 
nor  that  all  things  were  bound  to  conform  to  what  he  had  fancied  or 
would  have  them  to  be.  In  treating  of  men  and  manners,  he  spoke 
of  them  as  he  found  them,  not  according  to  perconceived  notions 
and  abstract  dogmas ;  and  he  began  by  teaching  us  what  he  himself 
was.  In  criticising  books  he  did  not  compare  them  with  rules  and 
systems,  but  told  us  what  he  saw  to  like  or  dislike  in  them.  He 
did  not  take  his  standard  of  excellence  "  according  to  an  exact 
scale  "  of  Aristotle,  or  fall  out  with  a  work  that  was  good  for  any- 
thing because  "not  one  of  the  angles  at  the  four  corners  was  a 
right  one."  He  was,  in  a  word,  the  first  author  who  was  not  a 
bookmaker,  and  who  wrote  not  to  make  converts  of  others  to 
established  creeds  and  prejudices,  but  to  satisfy  his  own  mind  of  the 
truth  of  things.  In  this  respect  we  know  not  which  to  be  most 
charmed  with,  the  author  or  the  man.  There  is  an  inexpressible 
frankness  and  sincerity,  as  well  as  power,  in  what  he  writes.  There 
is  no  attempt  at  imposition  or  concealment,  no  juggling  tricks  or 
solemn  mouthing,  no  laboured  attempts  at  proving  himself  always 
in  the  right,  and  everybody  else  in  the  wrong;  he  says  what  is 
uppermost,  lays  open  what  floats  at  the  top  or  the  bottom  of  his 
mind,  and  deserves  Pope's  character  of  him,  where  he  professes  to 


-"  pour  out  all  as  plain 


As  downright  Shippen,  or  as  old  Montaigne." 

He  does  not  converse  with  us  like  a  pedagogue  with  his  pupil,  whom 
he  wishes  to  make  as  great  a  blockhead  as  himself,  but  like  a  philo- 
sopher and  friend  who  has  passed  through  life  with  thought  and 


146        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

observation,  and  is  willing  to  enable  others  to  pass  through  it  with 
pleasure  and  profit.  A  writer  of  this  stamp,  I  confess,  appears  to 
me  as  much  superior  to  a  common  bookworm  as  a  library  of  real 
books  is  superior  to  a  mere  bookcase,  painted  and  lettered  on  the 
outside  with  the  names  of  celebrated  works.  As  he  was  the  first  to 
attempt  this  new  way  of  writing,  so  the  same  strong  natural  impulse 
which  prompted  the  undertaking  carried  him  to  the  end  of  his 
career.  The  same  force  and  honesty  of  mind  which  urged  him  to 
throw  off  the  shackles  of  custom  and  prejudice  would  enable  him 
to  complete  his  triumph  over  them.  He  has  left  little  for  his 
successors  to  achieve  in  the  way  of  just  and  original  speculation  on 
human  life.  Nearly  all  the  thinking  of  the  two  last  centuries  of 
that  kind  which  the  French  denominate  morale  observatrice  is  to  be 
found  in  Montaigne's  "  Essays : "  there  is  the  germ,  at  least,  and 
generally  much  more.  He  sowed  the  seed  and  cleared  away  the 
rubbish,  even  where  others  have  reaped  the  fruit  or  cultivated  and 
decorated  the  soil  to  a  greater  degree  of  nicety  and  perfection. 
There  is  no  one  to  whom  the  old  Latin  adage  is  more  applicable 
than  to  Montaigne,  "  Pereant  isti  qui  ante  nos  nostra  dixerunt." 
There  has  been  no  new  impulse  given  to  thought  since  his  time. 
Among  the  specimens  of  criticisms  on  authors  which  he  has  left  us 
are  those  on  Virgil,  Ovid,  and  Boccaccio,  in  the  account  of  books 
which  he  thinks  worth  reading,  or  (which  is  the  same  thing)  which 
he  finds  he  can  read  in  his  old  age,  and  which  may  be  reckoned 
among  the  few  criticisms  which  are  worth  reading  at  any  age.  .  .  . 


STEELE  AND  ADDISON. 

I  HAVE  always  preferred  the  "Tatler"  to  the  "Spectator." 
Whether  it  is  owing  to  my  having  been  earlier  or  better  ac- 
quainted with  the  one  than  the  other,  my  pleasure  in  reading  these 
two  admirable  works  is  not  in  proportion  to  their  comparative 
reputation.  The  "  Tatler  "  contains  only  half  the  number  of  volumes, 
and,  I  will  venture  to  say,  nearly  an  equal  quantity  of  sterling  wit 
and  sense.  "  The  first  sprightly  runnings  "  are  there :  it  has  more 
of  the  original  spirit,  more  of  the  freshness  and  stamp  of  nature. 
The  indications  of  character  and  strokes  of  humour  are  more  true 
and  frequent;  the  reflections  that  suggest  themselves  arise  more 
from  the  occasion,  and  are  less  spun  out  into  regular  dissertations. 
They  are  more  like  the  remarks  which  occur  in  sensible  conversation, 
and  less  like  a  lecture.  Something  is  left  to  the  understanding  of 
the  reader.  Steele  seems  to  have  gone  into  his  closet  chiefly  to  set 


STEELE  AND  ADDISON.  147 

down  what  he  observed  out  of  doors.  Addison  seems  to  have  spent 
most  of  his  time  in  his  study,  and  to  have  spun  out  and  wiredrawn 
the  hints  which  he  borrowed  from  Steele,  or  took  from  nature,  to 
the  utmost.  I  am  far  from  wishing  to  depreciate  Addison's  talents, 
but  I  am  anxious  to  do  justice  to  Steele,  who  was,  I  think,  upon 
the  whole  a  less  artificial  and  more  original  writer.  The  humorous 
descriptions  of  Steele  resemble  loose  sketches,  or  fragments  of  a 
comedy ;  those  of  Addison  are  rather  comments  or  ingenious  para- 
phrases on  the  genuine  text.  The  characters  of  the  club,  not  only 
in  the  "Tatler,"  but  in  the  "Spectator,"  were  drawn  by  Steele. 
That  of  Sir  Roger  de  Coverley  is  among  the  number.  Addison  has, 
however,  gained  himself  immortal  honour  by  his  manner  of  filling 
up  this  last  character.  Who  is  there  that  can  forget,  or  be  insen- 
sible to,  the  inimitable  nameless  graces  and  varied  traits  of  nature 
and  of  old  English  character  in  it :  to  his  unpretending  virtues  and 
amiable  weaknesses :  to  his  modesty,  generosity,  hospitality,  and 
eccentric  whims :  to  the  respect  of  his  neighbours,  and  the  affection 
of  his  domestics :  to  his  wayward,  hopeless,  secret  passion  for  his 
fair  enemy,  the  widow,  in  which  there  is  more  of  real  romance  and 
true  delicacy  than  in  a  thousand  tales  of  knight-errantry  (we  per- 
ceive the  hectic  flush  of  his  cheek,  the  faltering  of  his  tongue  in 
speaking  of  her  bewitching  airs  and  "  the  whiteness  of  her  hand  ")  : 
to  the  havoc  he  makes  among  the  game  in  his  neighbourhood :  to 
his  speech  from  the  bench,  to  show  the  Spectator  what  is  thought 
of  him  in  the  country :  to  his  unwillingness  to  be  put  up  as  a  sign- 
post, and  his  having  his  own  likeness  turned  into  the  Saracen's 
head :  to  his  gentle  reproof  of  the  baggage  of  a  gipsy  that  tells  him 
"  he  has  a  widow  in  his  line  of  life : "  to  his  doubts  as  to  the  exist- 
ence of  witchcraft,  and  protection  of  reputed  witches :  to  his  account 
of  the  family  pictures,  and  his  choice  of  a  chaplain :  to  his  falling 
asleep  at  church,  and  his  reproof  of  John  Williams,  as  soon  as  he 
recovered  from  his  nap,  for  talking  in  sermon-time  ?  The  characters 
of  Will  Wimble  and  Will  Honeycomb  are  not  a  whit  behind  their 
friend,  Sir  Roger,  in  delicacy  and  felicity.  The  delightful  simplicity 
and  good-humoured  officiousness  in  the  one  are  set  off  by  the  grace- 
ful affectation  and  courtly  pretension  in  the  other.  How  long  since 
I  first  became  acquainted  with  these  two  characters  in  the  "  Spec- 
tator ! "  What  old-fashioned  friends  they  seem,  and  yet  I  am  not 
tired  of  them  like  so  many  other  friends,  nor  they  of  me !  How 
airy  these  abstractions  of  the  poet's  pen  stream  over  the  dawn  of 
our  acquaintance  with  human  life !  how  they  glance  their  fairest 
colours  on  the  prospect  before  us !  how  pure  they  remain  in  it  to 
the  last,  like  the  rainbow  in  the  evening-cloud,  which  the  rude  hand 


148        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

of  time  and  experience  can  neither  soil  nor  dissipate !  What  a  pity 
that  we  cannot  find  the  reality!  And  yet  if  we  did,  the  dream 
would  be  over.  . 


JOHNSON. 

THE  most  triumphant  record  of  the  talents  and  character  of  Johnson 
is  to  be  found  in  Boswell's  Life  of  him.  The  man  was  superior  to 
the  author.  When  he  threw  aside  his  pen,  which  he  regarded  as 
an  encumbrance,  he  became  not  only  learned  and  thoughtful,  but 
acute,  witty,  humorous,  natural,  honest ;  hearty  and  determined, 
"  the  king  of  good  fellows  and  wale  of  old  men."  There  are  as  many 
smart  repartees,  profound  remarks,  and  keen  invectives  to  be  found 
in  Boswell's  "  inventory  of  all  he  said  "  as  are  recorded  of  any  cele- 
brated man.  The  life  and  dramatic  play  of  his  conversation  forms 
a  contrast  to  his  written  works.  His  natural  powers  and  undisguised 
opinions  were  called  out  in  convivial  intercourse.  In  public,  he 
practised  with  the  foils  on:  in  private,  he  unsheathed  the  sword 
of  controversy,  and  it  was  "  the  Ebro's  temper."  The  eagerness  of 
opposition  roused  him  from  his  natural  sluggishness  and  acquired 
timidity;  he  returned  blow  for  blow;  and  whether  the  trial  were 
of  argument  or  wit,  none  of  his  rivals  could  boast  much  of  the 
encounter.  Burke  seems  to  have  been  the  only  person  who  had  a 
chance  with  him ;  and  it  is  the  unpardonable  sin  of  Boswell's  work, 
that  he  has  purposely  omitted  their  combats  of  strength  and  skill. 
Goldsmith  asked,  "  Does  he  wind  into  a  subject  like  a  serpent,  as 
Burke  does  ?  "  And  when  exhausted  with  sickness,  he  himself  said, 
"  If  that  fellow  Burke  were  here  now,  he  would  kill  me."  It  is  to 
be  observed  that  Johnson's  colloquial  style  was  as  blunt,  direct, 
and  downright  as  his  style  of  studied  composition  was  involved  and 
circuitous.  As  when  Topham  Beauclerc  and  Langton  knocked  him 
up  at  his  chambers,  at  three  in  the  morning,  and  he  came  to  the 
door  with  the  poker  in  his  hand,  but  seeing  them,  exclaimed, 
'  What,  is  it  you,  my  lads  ?  then  I'll  have  a  frisk  with  you ! "  And 
he  afterwards  reproaches  Langton,  who  was  a  literary  milksop,  for 
leaving  them  to  go  to  an  engagement  "  with  some  un-ideal  girls." 
What  words  to  come  from  the  mouth  of  the  great  moralist  and 
lexicographer !  His  good  deeds  were  as  many  as  his  good  sayings. 
His  domestic  habits,  his  tenderness  to  servants,  and  readiness  to 
oblige  his  friends ;  the  quantity  of  strong  tea  that  he  drank  to  keep 
down  sad  thoughts ;  his  many  labours  reluctantly  begun  and  irre- 
solutely laid  aside;  his  honest  acknowledgment  of  his  own,  and 
indulgence  to  the  weaknesses  of  others ;  his  throwing  himself  back 


THE  ENGLISH  NOVELISTS.  149 

in  the  post-chaise  with  Boswell,  and  saying,  "  Now  I  think  I  am  a 
good-humoured  fellow,"  though  nobody  thought  him  so,  and  yet  he 
was ;  his  quitting  the  society  of  Garrick  and  his  actresses,  and  his 
reason  for  it;  his  dining  with  Wilkes,  and  his  kindness  to  Gold- 
smith ;  his  sitting  with  the  young  ladies  on  his  knee  at  the  Mitre, 
to  give  them  good  advice,  in  which  situation,  if  not  explained,  he 
might  be  taken  for  Falstaff;  and  last  and  noblest,  his  carrying  the 
unfortunate  victim  of  disease  and  dissipation  on  his  back  up  through 
Fleet  Street  (an  act  which  realises  the  parable  of  the  good  Samaritan) 
— all  these,  and  innumerable  others,  endear  him  to  the  reader,  and 
must  be  remembered  to  his  lasting  honour.  He  had  faults,  but  they 
lie  buried  with  him.  He  had  his  prejudices  and  his  intolerant  feel- 
ings ;  but  he  suffered  enough  in  the  conflict  of  his  own  mind  with 
them.  For  if  no  man  can  be  happy  in  the  free  exercise  of  his  reason, 
no  wise  man  can  be  happy  without  it.  His  were  not  time-serving, 
heartless,  hypocritical  prejudices,  but  deep,  inwoven,  not  to  be 
rooted  out  but  with  life  and  hope,  which  he  found  from  old  habit 
necessary  to  his  own  peace  of  mind,  and  thought  so  to  the  peace 
of  mankind.  I  do  not  hate,  but  love  him  for  them.  They  were 
between  himself  and  his  conscience;  and  should  be  left  to  that 
higher  tribunal,  "  where  they  in  trembling  hope  repose,  the  bosom 
of  his  Father  and  his  God."  In  a  word,  he  has  left  behind  him 
few  wiser  or  better  men. 

THE  ENGLISH  NOVELISTS. 

[The  greater  portion  of  this  paper  originally  appeared  in  the  Edinburgh 
Review  in  1815.] 

THERE  is  an  exclamation  in  one  of  Gray's  Letters — "Be  mine  to 
read  eternal  new  romances  of  Marivaux  and  Crebillon ! "  If  I  did 
not  utter  a  similar  aspiration  at  the  conclusion  of  the  last  new 
novel  which  I  read  (I  would  not  give  offence  by  being  more  parti- 
cular as  to  the  name),  it  was  not  from  any  want  of  affection  for  the 
class  of  writing  to  which  it  belongs ;  for,  without  going  so  far  as 
the  celebrated  French  philosopher,  who  thought  that  more  was  to 
be  learnt  from  good  novels  and  romances  than  from  the  gravest 
treatises  on  history  and  morality,  yet  there  are  few  works  to  which 
I  am  oftener  tempted  to  turn  for  profit  or  delight  than  to  the 
standard  productions  in  this  species  of  composition.  We  find  there 
a  close  imitation  of  men  and  manners;  we  see  the  very  web  and 
texture  of  society  as  it  really  exists,  and  as  we  meet  with  it  when 
we  come  into  the  world.  If  poetry  has  "  something  more  divine  in 


150         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

it,"  this  savours  more  of  humanity.  We  are  brought  acquainted 
with  the  motives  and  characters  of  mankind,  imbibe  our  notions  of 
virtue  and  vice  from  practical  examples,  and  are  taught  a  knowledge 
of  the  world  through  the  airy  medium  of  romance.  As  a  record  of 
past  manners  and  opinions,  too,  such  writings  afford  the  best  and 
fullest  information.  For  example,  I  should  be  at  a  loss  where  to 
find  in  any  authentic  documents  of  the  same  period  so  satisfactory 
an  account  of  the  general  state  of  society,  and  of  moral,  political, 
and  religious  feeling  in  the  reign  of  George  II.,  as  we  meet  with  in 
the  "  Adventures  of  Joseph  Andrews  and  his  friend  Mr.  Abraham 
Adams."  This  work,  indeed,  I  take  to  be  a  perfect  piece  of  statistics 
in  its  kind.  In  looking  into  any  regular  history  of  that  period, 
into  a  learned  and  eloquent  charge  to  a  grand  jury  or  the  clergy  of 
a  diocese,  or  into  a  tract  on  controversial  divinity,  we  should  hear 
only  of  the  ascendency  of  the  Protestant  succession,  the  horrors  of 
Popery,  the  triumph  of  civil  and  religious  liberty,  the  wisdom  and 
moderation  of  the  sovereign,  the  happiness  of  the  subject,  and  the 
flourishing  state  of  manufactures  and  commerce.  But  if  we  really 
wish  to  know  what  all  these  fine-sounding  names  come  to,  we 
cannot  do  better  than  turn  to  the  works  of  those  who,  having  no 
other  object  than  to  imitate  nature,  could  only  hope  for  success 
from  the  fidelity  of  their  pictures,  and  were  bound  (in  self-defence) 
to  reduce  the  boasts  of  vague  theorists  and  the  exaggerations  of 
angry  disputants  to  the  mortifying  standard  of  reality.  Extremes 
are  said  to  meet ;  and  the  works  of  imagination,  as  they  are  called, 
sometimes  come  the  nearest  to  truth  and  nature.  Fielding,  in 
speaking  on  this  subject  and  vindicating  the  use  and  dignity  of  the 
style  of  writing  in  which  he  excelled  against  the  loftier  pretensions 
of  professed  historians,  says  that  in  their  productions  nothing  is 
true  but  the  names  and  dates,  whereas  in  his  everything  is  true  but 
the  names  and  dates.  If  so,  he  has  the  advantage  on  his  side. 

I  will  here  confess,  however,  that  I  am  a  little  prejudiced  on  the 
point  in  question,  and  that  the  effect  of  many  fine  speculations  has 
been  lost  upon  me,  from  an  early  familiarity  with  the  most  striking 
passages  in  the  work  to  which  I  have  just  alluded.  Thus  nothing 
can  be  more  captivating  than  the  description  somewhere  given  by  Mr. 
Burke  of  the  indissoluble  connection  between  learning  and  nobility, 
and  of  the  respect  universally  paid  by  wealth  to  piety  and  morals. 
But  the  effect  of  this  ideal  representation  has  always  been  spoiled 
by  my  recollection  of  Parson  Adams  sitting  over  his  cup  of  ale  in 
Sir  Thomas  Booby's  kitchen.  Echard  "On  the  Contempt  of  the 
Clergy "  is,  in  like  manner,  a  very  good  book,  and  "  worthy  of  all 
acceptation ; "  but,  somehow,  an  unlucky  impression  of  the  reality 


CERVANTES  AND  LE  SAGE.  151 

of  Parson  Trulliber  involuntarily  checks  the  emotions  of  respect  to 
which  it  might  otherwise  give  rise ;  while,  on  the  other  hand,  the 
lecture  which  Lady  Booby  reads  to  Lawyer  Scout  on  the  immediate 
expulsion  of  Joseph  and  Fanny  from  the  parish  casts  no  very 
favourable  light  on  the  flattering  accounts  of  our  practical  juris- 
prudence which  are  to  be  found  in  "  Blackstone "  or  "  De  Lolme." 
The  most  moral  writers,  after  all,  are  those  who  do  not  pretend  to 
inculcate  any  moral.  The  professed  moralist  almost  unavoidably 
degenerates  into  the  partisan  of  a  system ;  and  the  philosopher  is 
too  apt  to  warp  the  evidence  to  his  own  purpose.  But  the  painter 
of  manners  gives  the  facts  of  human  nature,  and  leaves  us  to  draw 
the  inference :  if  we  are  not  able  to  do  this,  or  do  it  ill,  at  least  it 
is  our  own  fault. 

The  first-rate  writers  in  this  class  of  course  are  few ;  but  those 
few  we  may  reckon  among  the  greatest  ornaments  and  best  bene- 
factors of  our  kind.  There  is  a  certain  set  of  them  who,  as  it  were, 
take  their  rank  by  the  side  of  reality,  and  are  appealed  to  as  evidence 
on  all  questions  concerning  human  nature.  The  principal  of  these 
are  Cervantes  and  Le  Sage,  who  may  be  considered  as  having  been 
naturalised  among  ourselves ;  and,  of  native  English  growth,  Field- 
ing, Smollett,  Richardson,  and  Sterne.1  As  this  is  a  department 
of  criticism  which  deserves  more  attention  than  has  been  usually 
bestowed  upon  it,  I  shall  here  venture  to  recur  (not  from  choice, 
but  necessity)  to  what  I  have  said  upon  it  in  a  well-known  periodical 
publication,  and  endeavour  to  contribute  my  mite  towards  settling 
the  standard  of  excellence,  both  as  to  degree  and  kind,  in  these 
several  writers. 


CERVANTES  AND  LE  SAGE. 

I  SHALL  begin  with  the  history  of  the  renowned  Don  Quixote  de 
la  Mancha,  who  presents  something  more  stately,  more  romantic, 
and  at  the  same  time  more  real  to  the  imagination  than  any  other 
hero  upon  record.  His  lineaments,  his  accoutrements,  his  paste- 
board vizor,  are  familiar  to  us  ;  and  Mambrino's  helmet  still  glitters 
in  the  sun !  We  not  only  feel  the  greatest  love  and  veneration  for 
the  knight  himself,  but  a  certain  respect  for  all  those  connected 
with  him — the  curate  and  Master  Nicolas  the  barber,  Sancho  and 
Dapple,  and  even  for  Rosinante's  leanness  and  his  errors.  Perhaps 

1  It  is  not  to  be  forgotten  that  the  author  of  "  Robinson  Crusoe  "  was  also 
an  Englishman.  His  other  works,  such  as  the  "Life  of  Colonel  Jack,"  &c., 
are  of  the  same  cast,  and  leave  an  impression  on  the  mind  more  like  that  of 
things  than  words. 


152         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

there  is  no  work  which  combines  so  much  whimsical  invention  with 
such  an  air  of  truth.  Its  popularity  is  almost  unequalled ;  and  yet 
its  merits  have  not  been  sufficiently  understood.  The  story  is  the 
least  part  of  them  ;  though  the  blunders  of  Sancho,  and  the  unlucky 
adventures  of  his  master,  are  what  naturally  catch  the  attention 
of  the  majority  of  readers.  The  pathos  and  dignity  of  the  senti- 
ments are  often  disguised  under  the  ludicrousness  of  the  subject, 
and  provoke  laughter  when  they  might  well  draw  tears.  The 
character  of  Don  Quixote  himself  is  one  of  the  most  perfect  dis- 
interestedness. He  is  an  enthusiast  of  the  most  amiable  kind: 
of  a  nature  equally  open,  gentle,  and  generous:  a  lover  of  truth 
and  justice;  and  one  who  had  brooded  over  the  fine  dreams  of 
chivalry  and  romance,  till  they  had  robbed  him  of  himself,  and 
cheated  his  brain  into  a  belief  of  their  reality.  There  cannot  be 
a  greater  mistake  than  to  consider  "Don  Quixote"  as  a  merely 
satirical  work,  or  as  a  vulgar  attempt  to  explode  "the  long-forgotten 
order  of  chivalry."  There  could  be  no  need  to  explode  what  no 
longer  existed.  Besides,  Cervantes  himself  was  a  man  of  the  most 
sanguine  and  enthusiastic  temperament ;  and  even  through  the 
crazed  and  battered  figure  of  the  knight,  the  spirit  of  chivalry 
shines  out  with  undiminished  lustre;  as  if  the  author  had  half- 
designed  to  revive  the  example  of  past  ages,  and  once  more  "  witch 
the  world  with  noble  horsemanship."  Oh !  if  ever  the  mouldering 
flame  of  Spanish  liberty  is  destined  to  break  forth,  wrapping  the 
tyrant  and  the  tyranny  in  one  consuming  blaze,  that  the  spark  of 
generous  sentiment  and  romantic  enterprise,  from  which  it  must 
be  kindled,  has  not  been  quite  extinguished  will  perhaps  be  owing 
to  thee,  Cervantes,  and  to  thy  "  Don  Quixote ! " 

The  character  of  Sancho  is  not  more  admirable  in  itself  than 
as  a  relief  to  that  of  the  knight.  The  contrast  is  as  picturesque 
and  striking  as  that  between  the  figures  of  Rosinante  and  Dapple. 
Never  was  there  so  complete  a  partie  quarree : — they  answer  to  one 
another  at  all  points.  Nothing  need  surpass  the  truth  of  physiog- 
nomy in  the  description  of  the  master  and  man,  both  as  to  body 
and  mind ;  the  one  lean  and  tall,  the  other  round  and  short ;  the 
one  heroical  and  courteous,  the  other  selfish  and  servile ;  the  one 
full  of  high-flown  fancies,  the  other  a  bag  of  proverbs;  the  one 
always  starting  some  romantic  scheme,  the  other  trying  to  keep  to 
the  safe  side  of  custom  and  tradition.  The  gradual  ascendency, 
however,  obtained  by  Don  Quixote  over  Sancho  is  as  finely  managed 
as  it  is  characteristic.  Credulity  and  a  love  of  the  marvellous  are 
as  natural  to  ignorance  as  selfishness  and  cunning.  Sancho  by 
degrees  becomes  a  kind  of  lay-brother  of  the  order ;  acquires  a  taste 


CERVANTES  AND  LE  SAGE.  153 

for  adventures  in  his  own  way,  and  is  made  all  but  an  entire  con- 
vert, by  the  discovery  of  the  hundred  crowns  in  one  of  his  most 
comfortless  journeys.  Towards  the  end,  his  regret  at  being  forced 
to  give  up  the  pursuit  of  knight-errantry  almost  equals  his  master's ; 
and  he  seizes  the  proposal  of  Don  Quixote  for  them  to  turn  shepherds 
with  the  greatest  avidity — still  applying  it  in  his  own  fashion ;  for 
while  the  Don  is  ingeniously  torturing  the  names  of  his  humble 
acquaintance  into  classical  terminations,  and  contriving  scenes  of 
gallantry  and  song,  Sancho  exclaims,  "  Oh,  what  delicate  wooden 
spoons  shall  I  carve !  what  crumbs  and  cream  shall  I  devour ! " — for- 
getting, in  his  milk  and  fruits,  the  pullets  and  geese  at  Camacho's 
wedding. 

This  intuitive  perception  of  the  hidden  analogies  of  things,  or,  as 
it  may  be  called,  this  instinct  of  the  imagination,  is,  perhaps,  what 
stamps  the  character  of  genius  on  the  productions  of  art  more  than 
any  other  circumstance ;  for  it  works  unconsciously  like  nature,  and 
receives  its  impressions  from  a  kind  of  inspiration.  There  is  as 
much  of  this  indistinct  keeping  and  involuntary  unity  of  purpose 
in  Cervantes  as  in  any  author  whatever.  Something  of  the  same 
unsettled,  rambling  humour  extends  itself  to  all  the  subordinate 
parts  and  characters  of  the  work.  Thus  we  find  the  curate  confi- 
dentially informing  Don  Quixote,  that  if  he  could  get  the  ear  of  the 
Government,  he  has  something  of  considerable  importance  to  propose 
for  the  good  of  the  State ;  and  our  adventurer  afterwards  (in  the 
course  of  his  peregrinations)  meets  with  a  young  gentleman  who 
is  a  candidate  for  poetical  honours,  with  a  mad  lover,  a  forsaken 
damsel,  a  Mahometan  lady  converted  to  the  Christian  faith,  &c. — 
all  delineated  with  the  same  truth,  wildness,  and  delicacy  of  fancy. 
The  whole  work  breathes  that  air  of  romance,  that  aspiration  after 
imaginary  good,  that  indescribable  longing  after  something  more 
than  we  possess,  that  in  all  places  and  in  all  conditions  of  life, 

-"  still  prompts  the  eternal  sigh, 


For  which  we  wish  to  live,  or  dare  to  die  ! " 

The  leading  characters  in  "  Don  Quixote "  are  strictly  individuals ; 
that  is,  they  do  not  so  much  belong  to  as  form  a  class  by  them- 
selves. In  other  words,  the  actions  and  manners  of  the  chief 
dramatis  personce  do  not  arise  out  of  the  actions  and  manners  of 
those  around  them,  or  the  situation  of  life  in  which  they  are  placed, 
but  out  of  the  peculiar  dispositions  of  the  persons  themselves, 
operated  upon  by  certain  impulses  of  caprice  and  accident.  Yet 
these  impulses  are  so  true  to  nature,  and  their  operation  so  exactly 
described,  that  we  not  only  recognise  the  fidelity  of  the  representa- 


154         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

tion,  but  recognise  it  with  all  the  advantages  of  novelty  superadded. 
They  are  in  the  best  sense  originals,  namely,  in  the  sense  in  which 
nature  has  her  originals.  They  are  unlike  anything  we  have  seen 
before — may  be  said  to  be  purely  ideal,  and  yet  identify  themselves 
more  readily  with  our  imagination,  and  are  retained  more  strongly 
in  memory,  than  perhaps  any  others:  they  are  never  lost  in  the 
crowd.  One  test  of  the  truth  of  this  ideal  painting  is  the  number 
of  allusions  which  "Don  Quixote"  has  furnished  to  the  whole  of 
civilised  Europe ;  that  is  to  say,  of  appropriate  cases  and  striking 
illustrations  of  the  universal  principles  of  our  nature.  The  detached 
incidents  and  occasional  descriptions  of  human  life  are  more  familiar 
and  obvious;  so  that  we  have  nearly  the  same  insight  here  given 
us  into  the  characters  of  innkeepers,  barmaids,  hostlers,  and  puppet- 
show  men  that  we  have  in  Fielding.  There  is  a  much  greater  mix- 
ture, however,  of  the  pathetic  and  sentimental  with  the  quaint 
and  humorous,  than  there  ever  is  in  Fielding.  I  might  instance  the 
story  of  the  countryman  whom  Don  Quixote  and  Sancho  met  in  their 
doubtful  search  after  Dulcinea,  driving  his  mules  to  plough  at  break 
of  day,  and  "  singing  the  ancient  ballad  of  Roncesvalles ! "  The 
episodes  which  are  frequently  introduced  are  excellent,  but  have, 
upon  the  whole,  been  overrated.  They  derive  their  interest  from 
their  connection  with  the  main  story.  We  are  so  pleased  with  that, 
that  we  are  disposed  to  receive  pleasure  from  everything  else. 
Compared,  for  instance,  with  the  serious  tales  of  Boccaccio,  they 
are  slight  and  somewhat  superficial.  That  of  Marcella  the  fair 
shepherdess  is,  I  think,  the  best.  I  shall  'only  add,  that  "Don 
Quixote"  was,  at  the  time  it  was  published,  an  entirely  original 
work  in  its  kind,  and  that  the  author  claims  the  highest  honour 
which  can  belong  to  one,  that  of  being  the  inventor  of  a  new  style 
of  writing.  I  have  never  read  his  "Galatea,"  nor  his  "Loves  of 
Persiles  and  Sigismunda,"  though  I  have  often  meant  to  do  it,  and 
I  hope  to  do  so  yet.  Perhaps  there  is  a  reason  lurking  at  the  bottom 
of  this  dilatoriness.  I  am  quite  sure  the  reading  of  these  works  could 
not  make  me  think  higher  of  the  author  of  "  Don  Quixote,"  and  it 
might,  for  a  moment  or  two,  make  me  think  less. 

There  is  another  Spanish  novel,  "  Gusman  D'Alfarache,"  nearly  of 
the  same  age  as  "  Don  Quixote,"  and  of  great  genius,  though  it  can 
hardly  be  ranked  as  a  novel  or  a  work  of  imagination.  It  is  a  series 
of  strange,  unconnected  adventures,  rather  dryly  told,  but  accom- 
panied by  the  most  severe  and  sarcastic  commentary.  The  satire, 
the  wit,  the  eloquence  and  reasoning,  are  of  the  most  potent  kind ; 
but  they  are  didactic  rather  than  dramatic.  They  would  suit  a 
homily  or  a  pasquinade  as  well  [as]  or  better  than  a  romance. 


CERVANTES  AND  LE  SAGE.  155 

Still  there  are  in  this  extraordinary  book  occasional  sketches  of 
character  and  humorous  descriptions  to  which  it  would  be  difficult 
to  produce  anything  superior.  This  work,  which  is  hardly  known 
in  this  country  except  by  name,  has  the  credit  without  any  reason 
of  being  the  original  of  "  Gil  Bias."  There  is  one  incident  the  same, 
that  of  the  unsavoury  ragout  which  is  served  up  for  supper  at  the 
inn.  In  all  other  respects  these  two  works  are  the  very  reverse  of 
each  other,  both  in  their  excellences  and  defects.  "Lazarillo  de 
Tonnes "  has  been  more  read  than  the  "  Spanish  Rogue,"  and  is 
a  work  more  readable,  on  this  account  among  others,  that  it  is 
contained  in  a  duodecimo  instead  of  a  folio  volume.  This,  however, 
is  long  enough,  considering  that  it  treats  of  only  one  subject,  that 
of  eating,  or  rather  the  possibility  of  living  without  eating.  Famine 
is  here  framed  into  an  art,  and  feasting  is  banished  far  hence.  The 
hero's  time  and  thoughts  are  taken  up  in  a  thousand  shifts  to  pro- 
cure a  dinner ;  and  that  failing,  in  tampering  with  his  stomach  till 
supper-time,  when,  being  forced  to  go  supperless  to  bed,  he  com- 
forts himself  with  the  hopes  of  a  breakfast  the  next  morning, 
of  which  being  again  disappointed,  he  reserves  his  appetite  for  a 
luncheon,  and  then  has  to  stave  it  off  again  by  some  meagre  excuse 
or  other  till  dinner ;  and  so  on,  by  a  perpetual  adjournment  of  this 
necessary  process,  through  the  four-and-twenty  hours  round.  The 
quantity  of  food  proper  to  keep  body  and  soul  together  is  reduced 
to  a  minimum  ;  and  the  most  uninviting  morsels  with  which  Laza- 
rillo meets  once  a  week  as  a  God's-send  are  pampered  into  the 
most  sumptuous  fare  by  a  long  course  of  inanition.  The  scene  of 
this  novel  could  be  laid  nowhere  so  properly  as  in  Spain,  that  land 
of  priestcraft  and  poverty,  where  hunger  seems  to  be  the  ruling 
passion,  and  starving  the  order  of  the  day. 

"Gil  Bias"  has,  next  to  "Don  Quixote,"  been  more  generally 
read  and  admired  than  any  other  novel ;  and  in  one  sense  deservedly 
so ;  for  it  is  at  the  head  of  its  class,  though  that  class  is  very  dif- 
ferent from,  and  I  should  say  inferior  to,  the  other.  There  is  little 
individual  character  in  "  Gil  Bias."  The  author  is  a  describer  of 
manners,  and  not  of  character.  He  does  not  take  the  elements  of 
human  nature,  and  work  them  up  into  new  combinations  (which 
is  the  excellence  of  "Don  Quixote"),  nor  trace  the  peculiar  and 
shifting  shades  of  folly  and  knavery  as  they  are  to  be  found  in  real 
life  (like  Fielding)  ;  but  he  takes  off,  as  it  were,  the  general,  habitual 
impression  which  circumstances  make  on  certain  conditions  of  life, 
and  moulds  all  his  characters  accordingly.  All  the  persons  whom 
he  introduces  carry  about  with  them  the  badge  of  their  profession ; 
and  you  see  little  more  of  them  than  their  costume.  He  describes 


156        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

men  as  belonging  to  distinct  classes  in  society ;  not  as  they  are  in 
themselves,  or  with  the  individual  differences  which  are  always  to 
be  discovered  in  nature.  His  hero,  in  particular,  has  no  character 
but  that  of  the  successive  circumstances  in  which  he  is  placed.  His 
priests  are  only  described  as  priests :  his  valets,  his  players,  his 
women,  his  courtiers  and  his  sharpers,  are  all  alike.  Nothing  can 
well  exceed  the  monotony  of  the  work  in  this  respect,  at  the  same 
time  that  nothing  can  exceed  the  truth  and  precision  with  which 
the  general  manners  of  these  different  characters  are  preserved,  nor 
the  felicity  of  the  particular  traits  by  which  their  common  foibl&s 
are  brought  out.  Thus  the  Archbishop  of  Granada  will  remain  an 
everlasting  memento  of  the  weakness  of  human  vanity;  and  the 
account  of  Gil  Bias'  legacy,  of  the  uncertainty  of  human  expecta- 
tions. This  novel  is  also  deficient  in  the  fable  as  well  as  in  the 
characters.  It  is  not  a  regularly  constructed  story,  but  a  series  of 
amusing  adventures  told  with  equal  gaiety  and  good  sense,  and  in 
the  most  graceful  style  imaginable. 

It  has  been  usual  to  class  our  own  great  novelists  as  imitators  of 
one  or  other  of  these  two  writers.  Fielding,  no  doubt,  is  more  like 
"  Don  Quixote  "  than  "  Gil  Bias ; "  Smollett  is  more  like  "  Gil  Bias  " 
than  "  Don  Quixote ; "  but  there  is  not  much  resemblance  in  either 
case.  Sterne's  "  Tristram  Shandy "  is  a  more  direct  instance  of 
imitation;  Richardson  can  scarcely  be  called  an  imitator  of  any 
one ;  or  if  he  is,  it  is  of  the  sentimental  refinement  of  Marivaux,  or 
of  the  verbose  gallantry  of  the  writers  of  the  seventeenth  century. 

There  is  very  little  to  warrant  the  common  idea  that  Fielding 
was  an  imitator  of  Cervantes,  except  his  own  declaration  of  such  an 
intention  in  the  title-page  of  "  Joseph  Andrews,"  the  romantic  turn 
of  the  character  of  Parson  Adams  (the  only  romantic  character  in 
his  works),  and  the  proverbial  humour  of  Partridge,  which  is  kept 
up  only  for  a  few  pages.  Fielding's  novels  are,  in  general,  thoroughly 
his  own;  and  they  are  thoroughly  English.  What  they  are  most) 
remarkable  for  is  neither  sentiment,  nor  imagination,  nor  wit.  nor 
even  humour,  though  there  is  an  immense  deal  of  this  last  quality  ;|  i 
but  profound  knowledge  of  human  nature,  at  least  of  English  nature,  i  I 
and  masterly  pictures  of  the  characters  of  men  as  he  saw  them  exisW-' 
ing.  This  quality  distinguishes  all  his  works,  and  is  shown  almost 
equally  in  all  of  them.  As  a  painter  of  real  life,  he  was  equal  to 
Hogarth :  as  a  mere  observer  of  human  nature,  he  was  little  infe- 
rior to  Shakspeare,  though  without  any  of  the  genius  and  poetical 
qualities  of  his  mind.  His  humour  is  less  rich  and  laughable  than 
Smollett's ;  his  wit  as  often  misses  as  hits ;  he  has  none  of  the  fine 
pathos  of  Richardson  or  Sterne;  but  he  has  brought  together  a 


FIELDING  AND  SMOLLETT.  157 

greater  variety  of  characters  in  common  life,  marked  with  more 
distinct  peculiarities  and  without  an  atom  of  caricature,  than  any 
other  novel-writer  whatever.  The  extreme  subtlety  of  observation 
on  the  springs  of  human  conduct  in  ordinary  characters  is  only 
equalled  by  the  ingenuity  of  contrivance  in  bringing  those  springs 
into  play,  in  such  a  manner  as  to  lay  open  their  smallest  irregularity. 
The  detection  is  always  complete,  and  made  with  the  certainty  and 
skill  of  a  philosophical  experiment,  and  the  obviousness  and  famili- 
arity of  a  casual  observation.  The  truth  of  the  imitation  is  indeed 
so  great,  that  it  has  been  argued  that  Fielding  must  have  had  his 
materials  ready-made  to  his  hands,  and  was  merely  a  transcriber  of 
local  manners  and  individual  habits.  For  this  conjecture,  however, 
there  seems  to  be  no  foundation.  His  representations,  it  is  true, 
are  local  and  individual ;  but  they  are  not  the  less  profound  and 
conclusive.  The  feeling  of  the  general  principles  of  human  nature, 
operating  in  particular  circumstances,  is  always  intense,  and  upper- 
most in  his  mind ;  and  he  makes  use  of  incident  and  situation  only 
to  bring  out  character. 

It  is  scarcely  necessary  to  give  any  illustrations.  Tom  Jones  is 
full  of  them.  There  is  the  account,  for  example,  of  the  gratitude 
of  the  elder  Blifil  to  his  brother,  for  assisting  him  to  obtain  the 
fortune  of  Miss  Bridget  Alworthy  by  marriage ;  and  of  the  gratitude 
of  the  poor  in  his  neighbourhood  to  Alworthy  himself,  who  had 
done  so  much  good  in  the  country  that  he  had  made  every  one  in 
it  his  enemy.  There  is  the  account  of  the  Latin  dialogues  between 
Partridge  and  his  maid,  of  the  assault  made  on  him  during  one  of 
these  by  Mrs.  Partridge,  and  the  severe  bruises  he  patiently  re- 
ceived on  that  occasion,  after  which  the  parish  of  Little  Badding- 
ton  rang  with  the  story  that  the  schoolmaster  had  killed  his  wife. 
There  is  the  exquisite  keeping  in  the  character  of  Blifil,  and  the 
want  of  it  in  that  of  Jones.  There  is  the  gradation  in  the  lovers 
of  Molly  Seagrim ;  the  philosopher  Square  succeeding  to  Tom  Jones, 
who  again  finds  that  he  himself  had  succeeded  to  the  accomplished 
Will  Barnes,  who  had  the  first  possession  of  her  person,  and  had 
still  possession  of  her  heart,  Jones  being  only  the  instrument  of  her 
vanity,  as  Square  was  of  her  interest.  Then  there  is  the  discreet 
honesty  of  Black  George,  the  learning  of  Thwackum  and  Square, 
and  the  profundity  of  Squire  Western,  who  considered  it  as  a 
physical  impossibility  that  his  daughter  should  fall  in  love  with 
Tom  Jones.  We  have  also  that  gentleman's  disputes  with  his 
sister,  and  the  inimitable  appeal  of  that  lady  to  her  niece: — "I 
was  never  so  handsome  as  you,  Sophy :  yet  I  had  something  of  you 
formerly.  I  was  called  the  cruel  Parthenissa.  Kingdoms  and 


158        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

states,  as  Tully  Cicero  says,  undergo  alteration,  and  so  must  the 
human  form ! "  The  adventure  of  the  same  lady  with  the  highway- 
man, who  robbed  her  of  her  jewels  while  he  complimented  her 
beauty,  ought  not  to  be  passed  over,  nor  that  of  Sophia  and  her 
muff,  nor  the  reserved  coquetry  of  her  cousin  Fitzpatrick,  nor  the 
description  of  Lady  Bellaston,  nor  the  modest  overtures  of  the 
pretty  widow  Hunt,  nor  the  indiscreet  babblings  of  Mrs.  Honour. 
The  moral  of  this  book  has  been  objected  to  without  much  reason ; 
but  a  more  serious  objection  has  been  made  to  the  want  of  refine- 
ment and  elegance  in  two  principal  characters.  We  never  feel  this 
objection,  indeed,  while  we  are  reading  the  book ;  but  at  other  times 
we  have  something  like  a  lurking  suspicion  that  Jones  was  but  an 
awkward  fellow,  and  Sophia  a  pretty  simpleton.  I  do  not  know 
how  to  account  for  this  effect,  unless  it  is  that  Fielding's  constantly 
assuring  us  of  the  beauty  of  his  hero,  and  the  good  sense  of  his 
heroine,  at  last  produces  a  distrust  of  both.  The  story  of  "Torn 
Jones"  is  allowed  to  be  unrivalled;  and  it  is  this  circumstance, 
together  with  the  vast  variety  of  characters,  that  has  given  the 
"  History  of  a  Foundling "  so  decided  a  preference  over  Fielding's 
other  novels.  The  characters  themselves,  both  in  "Amelia"  and 
"  Joseph  Andrews,"  are  quite  equal  to  any  of  those  in  "  Tom  Jones." 
The  account  of  Miss  Matthews  and  Ensign  Hibbert,  in  the  former 
of  these ;  the  way  in  which  that  lady  reconciles  herself  to  the  death 
of  her  father ;  the  inflexible  Colonel  Bath ;  the  insipid  Mrs.  James, 
the  complaisant  Colonel  Trent,  the  demure,  sly,  intriguing,  equivocal 
Mrs.  Bennet,  the  lord  who  is  her  seducer,  and  who  attempts  after- 
wards to  seduce  Amelia  by  the  same  mechanical  process  of  a  con- 
cert-ticket, a  book,  and  the  disguise  of  a  great-coat ;  his  little,  fat, 
short-nosed,  red-faced,  good-humoured  accomplice,  the  keeper  of  the 
lodging-house,  who,  having  no  pretensions  to  gallantry  herself,  has 
a  disinterested  delight  in  forwarding  the  intrigues  and  pleasures  of 
others  (to  say  nothing  of  honest  Atkinson,  the  story  of  the  miniature 
picture  of  Amelia,  and  the  hashed  mutton,  which  are  in  a  different 
style),  are  masterpieces  of  description.  The  whole  scene  at  the  lodg- 
ing-house, the  masquerade,  &c.,  in  "  Amelia  "  are  equal  in  interest  to 
the  parallel  scenes  in  "Tom  Jones,"  and  even  more  refined  in  the  know- 
ledge of  character.  For  instance,  Mrs.  Bennet  is  superior  to  Mrs. 
Fitzpatrick  in  her  own  way.  The  uncertainty  in  which  the  event  of 
her  interview  with  her  former  seducer  is  left  is  admirable.  Fielding 
was  a  master  of  what  may  be  called  the  double  entendre  of  character, 
and  surprises  you  no  less  by  what  he  leaves  in  the  dark  (hardly 
known  to  the  persons  themselves)  than  by  the  unexpected  dis- 
coveries he  makes  of  the  real  traits  and  circumstances  in  a  character 


FIELDING  AND  SMOLLETT.  159 

with  which,  till  then,  you  find  you  were  unacquainted.  There  is 
nothing  at  all  heroic,  however,  in  the  usual  style  of  his  delineations. 
He  does  not  draw  lofty  characters  or  strong  passions ;  all  his  per- 
sons are  of  the  ordinary  stature  as  to  intellect,  and  possess  little 
elevation  of  fancy  or  energy  of  purpose.  Perhaps,  after  all,  Parson 
Adams  is  his  finest  character.  It  is  equally  true  to  nature,  and 
more  ideal  than  any  of  the  others.  Its  unsuspecting  simplicity 
makes  it  not  only  more  amiable,  but  doubly  amusing,  by  gratifying 
the  sense  of  superior  sagacity  in  the  reader.  Our  laughing  at  him 
does  not  once  lesson  our  respect  for  him.  His  declaring  that  he 
would  willingly  walk  ten  miles  to  fetch  his  sermon  on  vanity,  merely 
to  convince  Wilson  of  his  thorough  contempt  of  this  vice,  and  his 
consoling  himself  for  the  loss  of  his  "  ^Eschylus  "  by  suddenly  recol- 
lecting that  he  could  not  read  it  if  he  had  it,  because  it  is  dark,  are 
among  the  finest  touches  of  notivete.  The  night-adventures  at  Lady 
Booby's  with  Beau  Didapper  and  the  amiable  Slipslop  are  the  most 
ludicrous ;  and  that  with  the  huntsman,  who  draws  off  the  hounds 
from  the  poor  Parson,  because  they  would  be  spoiled  by  following 
vermin,  the  most  profound.  Fielding  did  not  often  repeat  himself ; 
but  Dr.  Harrison,  in  "  Amelia,"  may  be  considered  as  a  variation  of 
the  character  of  Adams :  so  also  is  Goldsmith's  "  Vicar  of  Wake- 
field  ; "  and  the  latter  part  of  that  work,  which  sets  out  so  delight- 
fully, an  almost  entire  plagiarism  from  Wilson's  account  of  himself, 
and  Adams's  domestic  history. 

Smollett's  first  novel,  "  Roderick  Random,"  which  is  also  his  best, 
appeared  about  the  same  time  as  Fielding's  "  Tom  Jones ;  "  and  yet 
it  has  a  much  more  modern  air  with  it ;  but  this  may  be  accounted 
for  from  the  circumstance  that  Smollett  was  quite  a  young  man  at 
the  time,  whereas  Fielding's  manner  must  have  been  formed  long 
before.  The  style  of  "  Roderick  Random  "  is  more  easy  and  flowing 
than  that  of  "  Tom  Jones ; "  the  incidents  follow  one  another  more 
rapidly  (though,  it  must  be  confessed,  they  never  come  in  such  a 
throng,  or  are  brought  out  with  the  same  dramatic  effect) ;  the 
humour  is  broader  and  as  effectual ;  and  there  is  very  nearly,  if  not 
quite,  an  equal  interest  excited  by  the  story.  What,  then,  is  it  that 
gives  the  superiority  to  Fielding  ?  It  is  the  superior  insight  into  the 
springs  of  human  character,  and  the  constant  development  of  that 
character  through  every  change  of  circumstance.  Smollett's  humour 
often  rises  from  the  situation  of  the  persons,  or  the  peculiarity  of  their 
external  appearance,  as  from  Roderick  Random's  carroty  locks,  which 
hung  down  over  his  shoulders  like  a  pound  of  candles,  or  Strap's 
ignorance  of  London,  and  the  blunders  that  follow  from  it.  There 
is  a  tone  of  vulgarity  about  all  his  productions.  The  incidents  fre- 

P 


160         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

quently  resemble  detached  anecdotes  taken  from  a  newspaper  or 
magazine ;  and,  like  those  in  "  Gil  Bias,"  might  happen  to  a  hundred 
other  characters.  He  exhibits  the  ridiculous  accidents  and  reverses 
to  which  human  life  is  liable,  not  "  the  stuff"  of  which  it  is  composed. 
He  seldom  probes  to  the  quick,  or  penetrates  beyond  the  surface ; 
and  therefore  he  leaves  no  stings  in  the  minds  of  his  readers,  and  in 
this  respect  is  far  less  interesting  than  Fielding.  His  novels  always 
enliven,  and  never  tire  us :  we  take  them  up  with  pleasure,  and 
lay  them  down  without  any  strong  feeling  of  regret.  We  look  on 
and  laugh,  as  spectators  of  a  highly  amusing  scene,  without  closing  in 
with  the  combatants  or  being  made  parties  in  the  event.  We  read 
"  Roderick  Random "  as  an  entertaining  story ;  for  the  particular 
accidents  and  modes  of  life  which  it  describes  have  ceased  to  exist ; 
but  we  regard  "  Tom  Jones  "  as  a  real  history,  because  the  author 
never  stops  short  of  those  essential  principles  which  lie  at  the 
bottom  of  all  our  actions,  and  in  which  we  feel  an  immediate 
interest — intus  et  in  cute.  Smollett  excels  most  as  the  lively  cari- 
caturist, Fielding  as  the  exact  painter  and  profound  metaphysician. 
I  am  far  from  maintaining  that  this  account  applies  uniformly  to 
the  productions  of  these  two  writers ;  but  I  think  that,  as  far  as 
they  essentially  differ,  what  I  have  stated  is  the  general  distinction 
between  them.  "  Roderick  Random "  is  the  purest  of  Smollett's 
novels :  I  mean  in  point  of  style  and  description.  Most  of  the 
incidents  and  characters  are  supposed  to  have  been  taken  from  the 
events  of  his  own  life,  and  are  therefore  truer  to  nature.  There  is  a 
rude  conception  of  generosity  in  some  of  his  characters,  of  which 
Fielding  seems  to  have  been  incapable,  his  amiable  persons  being 
merely  good-natured.  It  is  owing  to  this  that  Strap  is  superior  to 
Partridge,  as  there  is  a'heartiness  and  warmth  of  feeling  in  some  of 
the  scenes  between  Lieutenant  Bowling  and  his  nephew,  which  is 
beyond  Fieldmg's  power  of  impassioned  writing.  The  whole  of  the 
scene  on  ship-board  is  a  most  admirable  and  striking  picture,  and, 
I  imagine,  very  little  if  at  all  exaggerated,  though  the  interest  it 
excites  is  of  a  very  unpleasant  kind,  because  the  irritation  and  re- 
sistance to  petty  oppression  can  be  of  no  avail.  The  picture  of  the 
little  profligate  French  friar,  who  was  Roderick's  travelling  com- 
panion, and  of  whom  he  always  kept  to  the  windward,  is  one 
of  Smollett's  most  masterly  sketches.  "Peregrine  Pickle"  is  no 
great  favourite  of  mine,  and  "  Launcelot  Greaves  "  was  not  worthy 
of  the  genius  of  the  author. 

"Humphry  Clinker"  and  "Count  Fathom"  are  both  equally 
admirable  in  their  way.  Perhaps  the  former  is  the  most  pleasant 
gossiping  novel  that  ever  was  written :  that  which  gives  the  most 


RICHARDSON  AND  STERNE.  161 

pleasure  with  the  least  effort  to  the  reader.  It  is  quite  as  amusing 
as  going  the  journey  could  have  been ;  and  we  have  just  as  good  an 
idea  of  what  happened  on  the  road  as  if  we  had  been  of  the  party. 
Humphry  Clinker  himself  is  exquisite  ;  and  his  sweetheart,  Winifred 
Jenkins,  not  much  behind  him.  Matthew  Bramble,  though  not 
altogether  original,  is  excellently  supported,  and  seems  to  have 
been  the  prototype  of  Sir  Anthony  Absolute  in  the  "  Rivals."  But 
Lismahago  is  the  flower  of  the  flock.  His  tenaciousness  in  argu- 
ment is  not  so  delightful  as  the  relaxation  of  his  logical  severity, 
when  he  finds  his  fortune  mellowing  in  the  wintry  smiles  of  Mrs. 
Tabitha  Bramble.  This  is  the  best-preserved  and  most  severe  of  all 
Smollett's  characters.  The  resemblance  to  "  Don  Quixote  "  is  only 
just  enough  to  make  it  interesting  to  the  critical  reader  without 
giving  offence  to  anybody  else.  The  indecency  and  filth  in  this 
novel  are  what  must  be  allowed  to  all  Smollett's  writings.  The  sub- 
ject and  characters  in  "  Count  Fathom  "  are,  in  general,  exceedingly 
disgusting :  the  story  is  also  spun  out  to  a  degree  of  tediousness 
in  the  serious  and  sentimental  parts ;  but  there  is  more  power  of 
writing  occasionally  shown  in  it  than  in  any  of  his  works.  I  need 
only  refer  to  the  fine  and  bitter  irony  of  the  Count's  address  to  the 
country  of  his  ancestors  on  his  landing  in  England ;  to  the  robber- 
scene  in  the  forest,  which  has  never  been  surpassed  ;  to  the  Parisian 
swindler  who  personates  a  raw  English  country  squire  (Western  is 
tame  in  the  comparison) ;  and  to  the  story  of  the  seduction  in  the 
west  of  England.  It  would  be  difficult  to  point  out,  in  any  author, 
passages  written  with  more  force  and  mastery  than  these. 

It  is  not  a  very  difficult  undertaking  to  class  Fielding  or  Smollett 
— the  one  as  an  observer  of  the  characters  of  human  life,  the  other 
as  a  describer  of  its  various  eccentricities.  But  it  is  by  no  means 
so  easy  to  dispose  of  Richardson,  who  was  neither  an  observer  of 
the  one  nor  a  describer  of  the  other,  but  who  seemed  to  spin  his 
materials  entirely  out  of  his  own  brain,  as  if  there  had  been  nothing 
existing  in  the  world  beyond  the  little  room  in  which  he  sat  writing. 
There  is  an  artificial  reality  about  his  works,  which  is  nowhere  else 
to  be  met  with.  They  have  the  romantic  air  of  a  pure  fiction,  with 
the  literal  minuteness  of  a  common  diary.  The  author  had  the 
strongest  matter-of-fact  imagination  that  ever  existed,  and  wrote 
the  oddest  mixture  of  poetry  and  prose.  He  does  not  appear  to 
have  taken  advantage  of  anything  in  actual  nature,  from  one  end 
of  his  works  to  the  other ;  and  yet,  throughout  all  his  works,  volu- 
minous as  they  are — and  this,  to  be  sure,  is  one  reason  why  they 
are  so — he  sets  about  describing  every  object  and  transaction  as  if 
the  whole  had  been  given  in  on  evidence  by  an  eye-witness.  This 


162         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

kind  of  high  finishing  from  imagination  is  an  anomaly  in  the  history 
of  human  genius ;  and  certainly  nothing  so  fine  was  ever  produced 
by  the  same  accumulation  of  minute  parts.  There  is  not  the  least 
distraction,  the  least  forgetfulness  of  the  end :  every  circumstance 
is  made  to  tell.  I  cannot  agree  that  this  exactness  of  detail  pro- 
duces heaviness ;  on  the  contrary,  it  gives  an  appearance  of  truth, 
and  a  positive  interest  to  the  story  ;  and  we  listen  with  the  same 
attention  as  we  should  to  the  particulars  of  a  confidential  commu- 
nication. I  at  one  time  used  to  think  some  parts  of  "  Sir  Charles 
Grandison  "  rather  trifling  and  tedious,  especially  the  long  descrip- 
tion of  Miss  Harriet  Byron's  wedding-clothes,  till  I  was  told  of  two 
young  ladies  who  had  severally  copied  out  the  whole  of  that  very 
description  for  their  own  private  gratification.  After  that,  I  could 
not  blame  the  author. 

The  effect  of  reading  this  work  is  like  an  increase  of  kindred. 
You  find  yourself  all  of  a  sudden  introduced  into  the  midst  of  a 
large  family,  with  aunts  and  cousins  to  the  third  and  fourth  gene- 
ration, and  grandmothers  both  by  the  father's  and  mother's  side ; 
and  a  very  odd  set  of  people  they  are,  but  people  whose  real  exist- 
ence and  personal  identity  you  can  no  more  dispute  than  your  own 
senses,  for  you  see  and  hear  all  that  they  do  or  say.  What  is  still 
more  extraordinary,  all  this  extreme  elaborateness  in  working  out 
the  story  seems  to  have  cost  the  author  nothing ;  for  it  is  said  that 
the  published  works  are  mere  abridgments.  I  have  heard  (though 
this,  I  suspect,  must  be  a  pleasant  exaggeration)  that  "  Sir  Charles 
Grandison  "  was  originally  written  in  eight-and-twenty  volumes. 

Pamela  is  the  first  of  Richardson's  productions,  and  the  very 
child  of  his  brain.  Taking  the  general  idea  of  the  character  of  a 
modest  and  beautiful  country  girl,  and  of  the  ordinary  situation 
in  which  she  is  placed,  he  makes  out  all  the  rest,  even  to  the 
smallest  circumstance,  by  the  mere  force  of  a  reasoning  imagina- 
tion. It  would  seem  as  if  a  step  lost  would  be  as  fatal  here  as 
in  a  mathematical  demonstration.  The  development  of  the  char- 
acter is  the  most  simple,  and  comes  the  nearest  to  nature  that 
it  can  do,  without  being  the  same  thing.  The  interest  of  the  story 
increases  with  the  dawn  of  understanding  and  reflection  in  the 
heroine :  her  sentiments  gradually  expand  themselves,  like  opening 
flowers.  She  writes  better  every  time,  and  acquires  a  confidence 
in  herself,  just  as  a  girl  would  do  writing  such  letters  in  such 
circumstances;  and  yet  it  is  certain  that  no  girl  would  ivrite  such 
letters  in  such  circumstances.  What  I  mean  is  this — Richardson's 
nature  is  always  the  nature  of  sentiment  and  reflection,  not  of 
impulse  or  situation.  He  furnishes  his  characters,  on  every  occasion, 


RICHARDSON  AND  STERNE.  163 

with  the  presence  of  mind  of  the  author.  He  makes  them  act, 
not  as  they  would  from  the  impulse  of  the  moment,  but  as  they 
might  upon  reflection,  and  upon  a  careful  review  of  every  motive 
and  circumstance  in  their  situation.  They  regularly  sit  down  to 
write  letters ;  and  if  the  business  of  life  consisted  in  letter-writing, 
and  was  carried  on  by  the  post  (like  a  Spanish  game  at  chess), 
human  nature  would  be  what  Richardson  represents  it.  All  actual 
objects  and  feelings  are  blunted  and  deadened  by  being  presented 
through  a  medium  which  may  be  ture  to  reason,  but  is  false  in 
nature.  He  confounds  his  own  point  of  view  with  that  of  the 
immediate  actors  in  the  scene,  and  hence  presents  you  with  a  con- 
ventional and  factitious  nature,  instead  of  that  which  is  real.  Dr. 
Johnson  seems  to  have  preferred  this  truth  of  reflection  to  the 
truth  of  nature,  when  he  said  that  there  was  more  knowledge  of 
the  human  heart  in  a  page  of  Richardson  than  in  all  Fielding. 
Fielding,  however,  saw  more  of  the  practical  results,  and  understood 
the  principles  as  well ;  but  he  had  not  the  same  power  of  speculat- 
ing upon  their  possible  results,  and  combining  them  in  certain  ideal 
forms  of  passion  and  imagination,  which  was  Richardson's  real 
excellence. 

It  must  be  observed,  however,  that  it  is  this  mutual  good  un- 
derstanding, and  comparing  of  notes  between  the  author  and  the 
persons  he  describes :  his  infinite  circumspection,  his  exact  process 
of  ratiocination  and  calculation,  which  gives  such  an  appearance 
of  coldness  and  formality  to  most  of  his  characters — which  makes 
prudes  of  his  women,  and  coxcombs  of  his  men.  Everything  is  too 
conscious  in  his  works.  Everything  is  distinctly  brought  home  to 
the  mind  of  the  actors  in  the  scene,  which  is  a  fault  undoubtedly ; 
but  then  it  must  be  confessed  everything  is  brought  home  in  its  full 
force  to  the  mind  of  the  reader  also,  and  we  feel  the  same  interest 
in  the  story  as  if  it  were  our  own.  Can  anything  be  more  beautiful 
or  more  affecting  than  Pamela's  reproaches  to  her  "  lumpish  heart," 
when  she  is  sent  away  from  her  master's  at  her  own  request:  its 
lightness,  when  she  is  sent  for  back :  the  joy  which  the  conviction 
of  the  sincerity  of  his  love  diffuses  in  her  heart,  like  the  coming  on 
of  spring ;  the  artifice  of  the  stuff  gown :  the  meeting  with  Lady 
Davers  after  her  marriage :  and  the  trial-scene  with  her  husband  ? 
Who  ever  remained  insensible  to  the  passion  of  Lady  Clementina,  ex- 
cept Sir  Charles  Grandison  himself,  who  was  the  object  of  it  ?  Clarissa 
is,  however,  his  masterpiece,  if  we  except  Lovelace.  If  she  is  fine  in 
herself,  she  is  still  finer  in  his  account  of  her.  With  that  foil  her 
purity  is  dazzling  indeed ;  and  she  who  could  triumph  by  her  virtue 
and  the  force  of  her  love  over  the  regality  of  Lovelace's  mind,  his 


164        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

wit,  his  person,  his  accomplishments,  and  his  spirit,  conquers  all 
hearts.  I  should  suppose  that  never  sympathy  more  deep  or  sincere 
was  excited  than  by  the  heroine  of  Richardson's  romance,  except  by 
the  calamities  of  real  life.  The  links  in  this  wonderful  chain  of 
interest  are  not  more  finely  wrought  than  their  whole  weight  is 
overwhelming  and  irresistible.  Who  can  forget  the  exquisite  grada- 
tions of  her  long  dying  scene,  or  the  closing  of  the  coffin-lid,  when 
Miss  Howe  comes  to  take  her  last  leave  of  her  friend ;  or  the  heart- 
breaking reflection  that  Clarissa  makes  on  what  was  to  have  been 
her  wedding-day  ?  Well  does  a  certain  writer  exclaim — 

"  Books  are  a  real  world,  both  pure  and  good, 
Kound  which,  with  tendrils  strong  as  flesh  and  blood, 
Our  pastime  and  our  happiness  may  grow  ! " 

Richardson's  wit  was  unlike  that  of  any  other  writer :  his  humour 
was  so  too.  Both  were  the  effect  of  intense  activity  of  mind: 
laboured,. and  yet  completely  effectual.  I  might  refer  to  Lovelace's 
reception  and  description  of  Hickman,  when  he  calls  out  Death  in 
his  ear,  as  the  name  of  the  person  with  whom  Clarissa  had  fallen 
in  love,  and  to  the  scene  at  the  glove-shop.  What  can  be  more 
magnificent  than  his  enumeration  of  his  companions — "  Belt  m,  so 
pert  and  so  pimply :  Tourville,  so  fair  and  so  foppish,"  &c.  ?  In 
casuistry  this  author  is  quite  at  home ;  and  with  a  boldness  greater 
even  than  his  puritanical  severity,  [he]  has  exhausted  every  topic 
on  virtue  and  vice.  There  is  another  peculiarity  in  Richardson  not 
perhaps  so  uncommon,  which  is  his  systematically  preferring  his 
most  insipid  characters  to  his  finest,  though  both  were  equally  his 
own  invention,  and  he  must  be  supposed  to  have  understood  some- 
thing of  their  qualities.  Thus  he  preferred  the  little,  selfish,  affected, 
insignificant  Miss  Byron  to  the  divine  Clementina,  and,  again,  Sir 
Charles  Grandison  to  the  nobler  Lovelace.  I  have  nothing  to  say 
in  favour  of  Lovelace's  morality ;  but  Sir  Charles  is  the  prince  of 
coxcombs,  whose  eye  was  never  once  taken  from  his  own  person 
and  his  own  virtues,  and  there  is  nothing  which  excites  so  little 
sympathy  as  this  excessive  egotism. 

It  remains  to  speak  of  Sterne ;  and  I  shall  do  it  in  few  words. 
There  is  more  of  mannerism  and  affectation  in  him,  and  a  more 
immediate  reference  to  preceding  authors ;  but  his  excellences,  where 
he  is  excellent,  are  of  the  first  order.  His  characters  are  intellectual 
and  inventive,  like  Richardson's,  but  totally  opposite  in  the  execu- 
tion. The  one  is  made  out  by  continuity  and  patient  repetition  of 
touches :  the  others,  by  glancing  transitions  and  graceful  apposition. 
His  style  is  equally  different  from  Richardson's :  it  is  at  times  the 


SIR  WALTER  SCOTT.  165 

most  rapid,  the  most  happy,  the  most  idiomatic  of  any  that  is  to  be 
found.  It  is  the  pure  essence  of  English  conversational  style.  His 
works  consist  only  of  morceaux — of  brilliant  passages.  I  wonder 
that  Goldsmith,  who  ought  to  have  known  better,  should  call  him 
"  a  dull  fellow."  His  wit  is  poignant,  though  artificial ;  and  his 
characters  (though  the  groundwork  of  some  of  them  had  been  laid 
before)  have  yet  invaluable  original  differences ;  and  the  spirit  of 
the  execution,  the  master-strokes  constantly  thrown  into  them,  are 
not  to  be  surpassed.  It  is  sufficient  to  name  them : — Yorick,  Dr. 
Slop,  Mr.  Shandy,  My  Uncle  Toby,  Trim,  Susanna,  and  the  Widow 
Wadman.  In  these  he  has  contrived  to  oppose  with  equal  felicity 
and  originality  two  characters,  one  of  pure  intellect,  and  the  other 
of  pure  good-nature,  in  My  Father  and  My  Uncle  Toby.  There 
appears  to  have  been  in  Sterne  a  vein  of  dry,  sarcastic  humour,  and 
of  extreme  tenderness  of  feeling ;  the  latter  sometimes  carried  to 
affectation,  as  in  the  tale  of  "  Maria "  and  the  apostrophe  to  the 
recording  angel ;  but  at  other  times  pure  and  without  blemish.  The 
story  of  Le  Fevre  is  perhaps  the  finest  in  the  English  language. 
My  Father's  restlessness,  both  of  body  and  mind,  is  inimitable.  It 
is  the  model  from  which  all  those  despicable  performances  against 
modern  philosophy  ought  to  have  been  copied,  if  their  authors  had 
known  anything  of  the  subject  they  were  writing  about.  My 
Uncle  Toby  is  one  of  the  finest  compliments  ever  paid  to  human 
nature.  He  is  the  most  unoffending  of  God's  creatures ;  or,  as 
the  French  express  it,  un  tel  petit  bon  hommel  Of  his  bowling- 
green,  his  sieges,  and  his  amours,  who  would  say  or  think  anything 
amiss?  .  .  . 

In  knowledge,  in  variety,  in  facility,  in  truth  of  painting,  in 
costume  and  scenery,  in  freshness  of  subject  and  in  untired  interest, 
in  glancing  lights  and  the  graces  of  a  style  passing  at  will  from 
grave  to  gay,  from  lively  to  severe,  at  once  romantic  and  familiar, 
having  the  utmost  force  of  imitation  and  apparent  freedom  of  inven- 
tion, the  Waverley  novels  have  the  highest  claims  to  admiration. 
What  lack  they  yet?  The  author  has  all  power  given  him  from 
without — he  has  not,  perhaps,  an  equal  power  from  within.  The 
intensity  of  the  feeling  is  not  equal  to  the  distinctness  of  the  imagery. 
He  sits  like  a  magician  in  his  cell,  and  conjures  up  all  shapes  and 
sights  to  the  view ;  and  with  a  little  variation  we  might  apply  to 
him  what  Spenser  says  of  Fancy : — 

"  Hia  chamber  was  depainted  all  within 
With  sundry  colours,  in  which  were  writ 
Infinite  shape  of  things  dispersed  thin  ; 
Some  such  as  in  the  world  were  never  yet ; 


166         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

Some  daily  seen  and  knowen  by  their  names, 

Such  as  in  idle  fantasies  do  flit ; 

Infernal  hags,  centaurs,  fiends,  hippodames, 

Apes,  Hones,  eagles,  owls,  fools,  lovers,  children,  dames." 

In  the  midst  of  all  this  phantasmagoria,  the  author  himself  never 
appears  to  take  part  with  his  characters,  to  prompt  our  affection  to 
the  good  or  sharpen  our  antipathy  to  the  bad.  It  is  the  perfection 
of  art  to  conceal  art ;  and  this  is  here  done  so  completely,  that  while 
it  adds  to  our  pleasure  in  the  work,  it  seems  to  take  away  from  the 
merit  of  the  author.  As  he  does  not  thrust  himself  forward  in  the 
foreground,  he  loses  the  credit  of  the  performance.  The  copies  are 
so  true  to  nature,  that  they  appear  like  tapestry  figures  taken  off 
by  the  pattern — the  obvious  patchwork  of  tradition  and  history. 
His  characters  are  transplanted  at  once  from  their  native  soil  to  the 
page  which  we  are  reading,  without  any  traces  of  their  having  passed 
through  the  hotbed  of  the  author's  genius  or  vanity.  He  leaves  them 
as  he  found  them ;  but  this  is  doing  wonders.  The  Laird  and  the 
Bailie  of  Bradwardine,  the  idiot  rhymer  David  Gellatly,  Miss  Rose 
Bradwardine  and  Miss  Flora  Mac  Ivor,  her  brother  the  Highland  Jaco- 
bite chieftain,  Vich  Ian  Vohr,  the  Highland  rover,  Donald  Bean  Lean, 
and  the  worthy  page  Callum  Beg,  Bothwell  and  Balfour  of  Burley, 
Claverhouse  and  Macbriar,  Elshie,  the  Black  Dwarf,  and  the  Red 
Reever  of  Westburn  Flat,  Hobbie  and  Grace  Armstrong,  Lucy 
Bertram  and  Dominie  Sampson,  Dirk  Hatteraick  and  Meg  Merrilies, 
are  at  present  "  familiar  in  our  mouths  as  household  names,"  and 
whether  they  are  actual  persons  or  creations  of  the  poet's  pen  is  an 
impertinent  inquiry.  The  picturesque  and  local  scenery  is  as  fresh 
as  the  lichen  on  the  rock :  the  characters  are  a  part  of  the  scenery. 
If  they  are  put  in  action,  it  is  a  moving  picture :  if  they  speak,  we 
hear  their  dialect  and  the  tones  of  their  voice.  If  the  humour  is 
made  out  by  dialect,  the  character  by  the  dress,  the  interest  by  the 
facts  and  documents  in  the  author's  possession,  we  have  no  right  to 
complain,  if  it  is  made  out ;  but  sometimes  it  hardly  is,  and  then 
we  have  a  right  to  say  so.  For  instance,  in  the  "  Tales  of  my  Land- 
lord," Canny  Elshie  is  not  in  himself  so  formidable  or  petrific  a  person 
as  the  real  Black  Dwarf,  called  David  Ritchie,  nor  are  his  acts  or 
sayings  so  staggering  to  the  imagination.  Again,  the  first  introduc- 
tion of  this  extraordinary  personage,  groping  about  among  the  hoary 
twilight  ruins  of  the  Witch  of  Micklestane  Moor  and  her  Grey  Geese, 
is  as  full  of  preternatural  power  and  bewildering  effect  (according 
to  the  tradition  of  the  country)  as  can  be ;  while  the  last  decisive 
scene,  where  the  Dwarf,  in  his  resumed  character  of  Sir  Edward 
Mauley,  comes  from  the  tomb  in  the  chapel,  to  prevent  the  forced 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE— INTRODUCTORY.      167 

marriage  of  the  daughter  of  his  former  betrothed  mistress  with  the 
man  she  abhors,  is  altogether  powerless  and  tame.  No  situation 
could  be  imagined  more  finely  calculated  to  call  forth  an  author's 
powers  of  imagination  and  passion ;  but  nothing  is  done.  The 
assembly  is  dispersed  under  circumstances  of  the  strongest  natural 
feeling  and  the  most  appalling  preternatural  appearances,  just  as  if 
the  effect  had  been  produced  by  a  peace-officer  entering  for  the  same 
purpose.  These  instances  of  a  falling  off  are,  however,  rare ;  and  if 
this  author  should  not  be  supposed  by  fastidious  critics  to  have 
original  genius  in  the  highest  degree,  he  has  other  qualities  which 
supply  its  place  so  well :  his  materials  are  so  rich  and  varied,  and  he 
uses  them  so  lavishly,  that  the  reader  is  no  loser  by  the  exchange. 
We  are  not  in  fear  that  he  should  publish  another  novel ;  we  are 
under  no  apprehension  of  his  exhausting  himself,  for  he  has  shown 
that  he  is  inexhaustible. 


[Lectures  on  the  Dramatic  Literature  of  the  Aye  of  Elizabeth,  1821.     Second 
Edition,  1821.     Third  Edition,  1840.     Fourth  Edition,  1873.] 

GENERAL  VIEW  OF  THE  SUBJECT. 

THE  age  of  Elizabeth  was  distinguished  beyond,  perhaps,  any  other  in 
our  history  by  a  number  of  great  men,  famous  in  different  ways,  and 
whose  names  have  come  down  to  us  with  unblemished  honours :  states- 
men, warriors,  divines,  scholars,  poets,  and  philosophers ;  Raleigh, 
Drake,  Coke,  Hooker,  and — high  and  more  sounding  still,  and  still 
more  frequent  in  our  mouths — Shakspeare,  Spenser,  Sidney,  Bacon, 
Jonson,  Beaumont  and  Fletcher,  men  whom  Fame  has  eternised  in 
her  long  and  lasting  scroll,  and  who,  by  their  words  and  acts,  were 
benefactors  of  their  country  and  ornaments  of  human  nature.  Their 
attainments  of  different  kinds  bore  the  same  general  stamp,  and  it 
was  sterling ;  what  they  did  had  the  mark  of  their  age  and  country 
upon  it.  Perhaps  the  genius  of  Great  Britain  never  shone  out  fuller 
or  brighter,  or  looked  more  like  itself,  than  at  this  period.  Our 
writers  and  great  men  had  something  in  them  that  savoured  of  the 
soil  from  which  they  grew :  they  were  not  French ;  they  were  not 
Dutch,  or  German,  or  Greek,  or  Latin;  they  were  truly  English. 
They  did  not  look  out  of  themselves  to  see  what  they  should  be ; 
they  sought  for  truth  and  nature,  and  found  it  in  themselves. 
There  was  no  tinsel,  and  but  little  art ;  they  were  not  the  spoilt 
children  of  affectation  and  refinement,  but  a  bold,  vigorous,  inde- 


168        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

pendent  race  of  thinkers,  with  prodigious  strength  and  energy,  with 
none  but  natural  grace  and  heart-felt,  unobtrusive  delicacy.  They 
were  not  at  all  sophisticated.  The  mind  of  their  country  was  great 
in  them,  and  it  prevailed.  With  their  learning  and  unexampled 
acquirement,  they  did  not  forget  that  they  were  men:  with  all 
their  endeavours  after  excellence,  they  did  not  lay  aside  the  strong 
original  bent  and  character  of  their  minds.  What  they  performed 
was  chiefly  nature's  handiwork ;  and  Time  has  claimed  it  for  his 
own.  To  these,  however,  might  be  added  others  not  less  learned, 
nor  with  a  scarce  less  happy  vein,  but  less  fortunate  in  the  event, 
who,  though  as  renowned  in  their  day,  have  sunk  into  "mere 
oblivion,"  and  of  whom  the  only  record  (but  that  the  noblest)  is 
to  be  found  in  their  works.  Their  works  and  their  names,  "  poor, 
poor  dumb  names,"  are  all  that  remains  of  such  men  as  Webster, 
Decker,  Marston,  Marlowe,  Chapman,  Heywood,  Middleton,  and 
Rowley !  "  How  lov'd,  how  honour'd  once,  avails  them  not : " 
though  they  were  the  friends  and  fellow-labourers  of  Shakspeare, 
sharing  his  fame  and  fortunes  with  him,  the  rivals  of  Jonson,  and 
the  masters  of  Beaumont  and  Fletcher's  well-sung  woes !  They 
went  out  one  by  one  unnoticed,  like  evening  lights,  or  were  swal- 
lowed up  in  the  headlong  torrent  of  puritanic  zeal  which  succeeded, 
and  swept  away  everything  in  its  unsparing  course,  throwing  up 
the  wrecks  of  taste  and  genius  at  random,  and  at  long  fitful 
intervals,  amidst  the  painted  gewgaws  and  foreign  frippery  of  the 
reign  of  Charles  II.,  and  from  which  we  are  only  now  recovering 
the  scattered  fragments  and  broken  images  to  erect  a  temple  to 
true  Fame !  How  long  before  it  will  be  completed  ? 

If  I  can  do  anything  to  rescue  some  of  these  writers  from  hopeless 
obscurity,  and  to  do  them  right,  without  prejudice  to  well-deserved 
reputation,  I  shall  have  succeeded  in  what  I  chiefly  propose.  I  shall 
not  attempt,  indeed,  to  adjust  the  spelling  or  restore  the  pointing, 
as  if  the  genius  of  poetry  lay  hid  in  errors  of  the  press,  but,  leaving 
these  weightier  matters  of  criticism  to  those  who  are  more  able 
and  willing  to  bear  the  burden,  try  to  bring  out  their  real  beauties 
to  the  eager  sight,  "  draw  the  curtain  of  Time,  and  show  the  pic- 
ture of  Genius,"  restraining  my  own  admiration  within  reasonable 
bounds ! 

There  is  not  a  lower  ambition,  a  poorer  way  of  thought,  than  that 
which  would  confine  all  excellence,  or  arrogate  its  final  accomplish- 
ment, to  the  present  or  modern  times.  We  ordinarily  speak  and 
think  of  those  who  had  the  misfortune  to  write  or  live  before  us 
as  labouring  under  very  singular  privations  and  disadvantages  in 
not  having  the  benefit  of  those  improvements  which  we  have  made, 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE— INTRODUCTORY.      169 

as  buried  in  the  grossest  ignorance,  or  the  slaves  "  of  poring  pedan- 
try ; "  and  we  make  a  cheap  and  infallible  estimate  of  their  progress 
in  civilisation  upon  a  graduated  scale  of  perfectibility,  calculated 
from  the  meridian  of  our  own  times.  If  we  have  pretty  well  got 
rid  of  the  narrow  bigotry  that  would  limit  all  sense  or  virtue  to 
our  own  country,  and  have  fraternised,  like  true  cosmopolites,  with 
our  neighbours  and  contemporaries,  we  have  made  our  self-love 
amends  by  letting  the  generation  we  live  in  engross  nearly  all  our 
admiration,  and  by  pronouncing  a  sweeping  sentence  of  barbarism 
and  ignorance  on  our  ancestry  backwards,  from  the  commencement 
(as  near  as  can  be)  of  the  nineteenth  or  the  latter  end  of  the  eigh- 
teenth century.  From  thence  we  date  a  new  era,  the  dawn  of  our 
own  intellect  and  that  of  the  world,  like  "  the  sacred  influence  of 
light "  glimmering  on  the  confines  of  Chaos  and  old  night ;  new 
manners  rise,  and  all  the  cumbrous  "  pomp  of  elder  days  "  vanishes, 
and  is  lost  in  worse  than  Gothic  darkness.  Pavilioned  in  the  glitter- 
ing pride  of  our  superficial  accomplishments  and  upstart  pretensions, 
we  fancy  that  everything  beyond  that  magic  circle  is  prejudice  and 
error,  and  all  before  the  present  enlightened  period  but  a  dull  and 
useless  blank  in  the  great  map  of  Time.  We  are  so  dazzled  with 
the  gloss  and  novelty  of  modern  discoveries,  that  we  cannot  take 
into  our  mind's  eye  the  vast  expanse,  the  lengthened  perspective  of 
human  intellect,  and  a  cloud  hangs  over  and  conceals  its  loftiest 
monuments,  if  they  are  removed  to  a  little  distance  from  us — the 
cloud  of  our  own  vanity  and  short-sightedness.  The  modern  sciolist 
stultifies  all  understanding  but  his  own,  and  that  which  he  conceives 
like  his  own.  We  think,  in  this  age  of  reason  and  consummation  of 
philosophy,  because  we  knew  nothing  twenty  or  thirty  years  ago, 
and  began  to  think  then,  for  the  first  time  in  our  lives,  that  the 
rest  of  mankind  were  in  the  same  predicament,  and  never  knew  any- 
thing till  we  did ;  that  the  world  had  grown  old  in  sloth  and  ignor- 
ance, had  dreamt  out  its  long  minority  of  five  thousand  years  in  a 
dozing  state,  and  that  it  first  began  to  wake  out  of  sleep,  to  rouse 
itself,  and  look  about  it,  startled  by  the  light  of  our  unexpected 
discoveries,  and  the  noise  we  made  about  them.  Strange  error  of 
our  infatuated  self-love !  Because  the  clothes  we  remember  to  have 
seen  worn  when  we  were  children  are  now  out  of  fashion,  and  our 
grandmothers  were  then  old  women,  we  conceive,  with  magnanimous 
continuity  of  reasoning,  that  it  must  have  been  much  worse  three 
hundred  years  before,  and  that  grace,  youth,  and  beauty  are  things 
of  modern  date — as  if  nature  had  ever  been  old,  or  the  sun  had  first 
shone  on  our  folly  and  presumption.  Because,  in  a  word,  the  last 
generation,  when  tottering  off  the  stage,  were  not  so  active,  so 


170        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

sprightly,  and  so  promising  as  we  were,  we  begin  to  imagine  that 
people  formerly  must  have  crawled  about  in  a  feeble,  torpid  state, 
like  flies  in  winter,  in  a  sort  of  dim  twilight  of  the  understanding  ; 
"  nor  can  we  think  what  thoughts  they  could  conceive,"  in  the 
absence  of  all  those  topics  that  so  agreeably  enliven  and  diversify 
our  conversation  arid  literature,  mistaking  the  imperfection  of  our 
knowledge  for  the  defect  of  their  organs,  as  if  it  was  necessary  for 
us  to  have  a  register  and  certificate  of  their  thoughts,  or  as  if,  be- 
cause they  did  not  see  with  our  eyes,  hear  with  our  ears,  and  under- 
stand with  our  understandings,  they  could  hear,  see,  and  understand 
nothing.  A  falser  inference  could  not  be  drawn,  nor  one  more  con- 
trary to  the  maxims  and  cautions  of  a  wise  humanity.  "  Think, ' 
says  Shakspeare,  the  prompter  of  good  and  true  feelings,  "  there's 
livers  out  of  Britain."  So  there  have  been  thinkers,  and  great  and 
sound  ones,  before  our  time.  They  had  the  same  capacities  that  we 
have,  sometimes  greater  motives  for  their  exertion,  and,  for  the 
most  part,  the  same  subject-matter  to  work  upon.  What  we  learn 
from  nature,  we  may  hope  to  do  as  well  as  they ;  what  we  learn 
from  them,  we  may  in  general  expect  to  do  worse.  What  is,  I  think, 
as  likely  as  anything  to  cure  us  of  this  overweening  admiration  of 
the  present  and  unmingled  contempt  for  past  times  is  the  looking 
at  the  finest  old  pictures :  at  Raphael's  heads,  at  Titian's  faces,  at 
Claude's  landscapes.  We  have  there  the  evidence  of  the  senses, 
without  the  alterations  of  opinion  or  disguise  of  language.  We 
there  see  the  blood  circulate  through  the  veins  (long  before  it  was 
known  that  it  did  so),  the  same  red  and  white  "  by  Nature's  own 
sweet  and  cunning  hand  laid  on,"  the  same  thoughts  passing  through 
the  mind  and  seated  on  the  lips,  the  same  blue  sky  and  glittering 
sunny  vales,  "  where  Pan,  knit  with  the  Graces  and  the  Hours  in 
dance,  leads  on  the  eternal  spring."  And  we  begin  to  feel  that 
nature  and  the  mind  of  man  are  not  a  thing  of  yesterday,  as  we  had 
been  led  to  suppose,  and  that  "  there  are  more  things  in  heaven 
and  earth  than  are  dreamt  of  in  our  philosophy."  Or  grant  that  we 
improve,  in  some  respects,  in  a  uniformly  progressive  ratio,  and 
build,  Babel-high,  on  the  foundation  of  other  men's  knowledge,  as 
in  matters  of  science  and  speculative  inquiry,  where,  by  going  often 
over  the  same  general  ground,  certain  general  conclusions  have  been 
arrived  at,  and  in  the  number  of  persons  reasoning  on  a  given  sub- 
ject truth  has  at  last  been  hit  upon  and  long-established  error 
exploded ;  yet  this  does  not  apply  to  cases  of  individual  power  and 
knowledge,  to  a  million  of  things  beside,  in  which  we  are  still  to 
seek  as  much  as  ever,  and  in  which  we  can  only  hope  to  find  by 
going  to  the  fountain-head  of  thought  and  experience.  We  are 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE— INTRODUCTORY.      171 

quite  wrong  in  supposing  (as  we  are  apt  to  do)  that  we  can  plead 
an  exclusive  title  to  wit  and  wisdom,  to  taste  and  genius,  as  the 
net  produce  and  clear  reversion  of  the  age  we  live  in,  and  that  all 
we  have  to  do  to  be  great  is  to  despise  those  who  have  gone  before 
us  as  nothing.  .  .  . 

It  is  the  present  fashion  to  speak  with  veneration  of  old  English 
literature ;  but  the  homage  we  pay  to  it  is  more  akin  to  the  rites 
of  superstition  than  the  worship  of  true  religion.  Our  faith  is 
doubtful,  our  love  cold,  our  knowledge  little  or  none.  We  now  and 
then  repeat  the  names  of  some  of  the  old  writers  by  rote ;  but  we 
are  shy  of  looking  into  their  works.  Though  we  seem  disposed  to 
think  highly  of  them,  and  to  give  them  every  credit  for  a  masculine 
and  original  vein  of  thought,  as  a  matter  of  literary  courtesy  and 
enlargement  of  taste,  we  are  afraid  of  coming  to  the  proof,  as  too 
great  a  trial  of  our  candour  and  patience.  We  regard  the  enthusi- 
astic admiration  of  these  obsolete  authors,  or  a  desire  to  make 
proselytes  to  a  belief  in  their  extraordinary  merits,  as  an  amiable 
weakness,  a  pleasing  delusion,  and  prepare  to  listen  to  some  favourite 
passage  that  may  be  referred  to  in  support  of  this  singular  taste 
with  an  incredulous  smile ;  and  are  in  no  small  pain  for  the  result 
of  the  hazardous  experiment,  feeling  much  the  same  awkward  con- 
descending disposition  to  patronise  these  first  crude  attempts  at 
poetry  and  lispings  of  the  Muse  as  when  a  fond  parent  brings  for- 
ward a  bashful  child  to  make  a  display  of  its  wit  or  learning.  We 
hope  the  best,  put  a  good  face  on  the  matter,  but  are  sadly  afraid 
the  thing  cannot  answer.  Dr.  Johnson  said  of  these  writers  gener- 
ally, that  "they  were  sought  after  because  they  were  scarce,  and 
would  not  have  been  scarce  had  they  been  much  esteemed."  His 
decision  is  neither  true  history  nor  sound  criticism.  They  were 
esteemed,  and  they  deserved  to  be  so. 

One  cause  that  might  be  pointed  out  here  as  having  contributed 
to  the  long-continued  neglect  of  our  earlier  writers  lies  in  the  very 
nature  of  our  academic  institutions,  which  unavoidably  neutralises 
a  taste  for  the  productions  of  native  genius,  estranges  the  mind 
from  the  history  of  our  own  literature,  and  makes  it  in  each  succes- 
sive age  like  a  book  sealed.  The  Greek  and  Roman  classics  are  a 
sort  of  privileged  text-books,  the  standing  order  of  the  day,  in  a 
university  education,  and  leave  little  leisure  for  a  competent  ac- 
quaintance with  or  due  admiration  of  a  whole  host  of  able  writers 
of  our  own,  who  are  suffered  to  moulder  in  obscurity  on  the  shelves 
of  our  libraries,  with  a  decent  reservation  of  one  or  two  top-names, 
that  are  cried  up  for  form's  sake,  and  to  save  the  national  character. 
Thus  we  keep  a  few  of  these  always  ready  in  capitals,  and  strike  off 


172         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

the  rest,  to  prevent  the  tendency  to  a  superfluous  population  in  the 
republic  of  letters ;  in  other  words,  to  prevent  the  writers  from  be- 
coming more  numerous  than  the  readers.  The  ancients  are  become 
effete  in  this  respect :  they  no  longer  increase  and  multiply ;  or,  if 
they  have  imitators  among  us,  no  one  is  expected  to  read,  and  still 
less  to  admire,  them.  It  is  not  possible  that  the  learned  professors 
and  the  reading  public  should  clash  in  this  way,  or  necessary  for 
them  to  use  any  precautions  against  each  other.  But  it  is  not  the 
same  with  the  living  languages,  where  there  is  danger  of  being  over- 
whelmed by  the  crowd  of  competitors ;  and  pedantry  has  combined 
with  ignorance  to  cancel  their  unsatisfied  claims. 

We  affect  to  wonder  at  Shakspeare  and  one  or  two  more  of  that 
period,  as  solitary  instances  upon  record;  whereas  it  is  our  own 
dearth  of  information  that  makes  the  waste ;  for  there  is  no  time 
more  populous  of  intellect  or  more  prolific  of  intellectual  wealth 
than  the  one  we  are  speaking  of.  Shakspeare  did  not  look  upon  him- 
self in  this  light,  as  a  sort  of  monster  of  poetical  genius,  or  on  his 
contemporaries  as  "  less  than  smallest  dwarfs,"  when  he  speaks  with 
true,  not  false,  modesty  of  himself  and  them  and  of  his  wayward 
thoughts,  "  desiring  this  man's  art,  and  that  man's  scope."  We 
fancy  that  there  were  no  such  men  that  could  either  add  to  or  take 
anything  away  from  him,  but  such  there  were.  He  indeed  over- 
looks and  commands  the  admiration  of  posterity,  but  he  does  it 
from  the  tableland  of  the  age  in  which  he  lived.  He  towered  above 
his  fellows,  "  in  shape  and  gesture  proudly  eminent ; "  but  he  was 
one  of  a  race  of  giants — the  tallest,  the  strongest,  the  most  grace- 
ful and  beautiful  of  them.  But  it  was  a  common  and  a  noble  brood. 
He  was  not  something  sacred  and  aloof  from  the  vulgar  herd  of 
men,  but  shook  hands  with  Nature  and  the  circumstances  of  the 
time,  and  is  distinguished  from  his  immediate  contemporaries,  not 
in  kind,  but  in  degree  and  greater  variety  of  excellence.  He  did 
not  form  a  class  or  species  by  himself,  but  belonged  to  a  class  or 
species.  His  age  was  necessary  to  him;  nor  could  he  have  been 
wrenched  from  his  place,  in  the  edifice  of  which  he  was  so  con- 
spicuous a  part,  without  equal  injury  to  himself  and  it.  Mr. 
Wordsworth  says  of  Milton,  that  "his  soul  was  like  a  star,  and 
dwelt  apart."  This  cannot  be  said  with  any  propriety  of  Shakspeare, 
who  certainly  moved  in  a  constellation  of  bright  luminaries,  and 
"drew  after  him  a  third  part  of  the  heavens."  If  we  allow,  for 
argument's  sake  (or  for  truth's,  which  is  better),  that  he  was  in 
himself  equal  to  all  his  competitors  put  together,  yet  there  was 
more  dramatic  excellence  in  that  age  than  in  the  whole  of  the 
period  that  has  elapsed  since.  If  his  contemporaries,  with  their 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE— INTRODUCTORY.      173 

united  strength,  would  hardly  make  one  Shakspeare,  certain  it  is 
that  all  his  successors  would  not  make  half  a  one.  With  the  excep- 
tion of  a  single  writer,  Otway,  and  of  a  single  play  of  his  ("  Venice 
Preserved "),  there  is  nobody  in  tragedy  and  dramatic  poetry  (I 
do  not  here  speak  of  comedy)  to  be  compared  to  the  great  men  of 
the  age  of  Shakspeare  and  immediately  after.  They  are  a  mighty 
phalanx  of  kindred  spirits  closing  him  round,  moving  in  the  same 
orbit,  and  impelled  by  the  same  causes  in  their  whirling  and 
eccentric  career.  They  had  the  same  faults  and  the  same  excel- 
lences ;  the  same  strength  and  depth  and  richness ;  the  same  truth 
of  character,  passion,  imagination,  thought,  and  language,  thrown, 
heaped,  massed  together  without  careful  polishing  or  exact  method, 
but  poured  out  in  unconcerned  profusion  from  the  lap  of  Nature 
and  Genius  in  boundless  and  unrivalled  magnificence.  The  sweet- 
ness of  Decker,  the  thought  of  Marston,  the  gravity  of  Chapman, 
the  grace  of  Fletcher  and  his  young-eyed  wit,  Jonson's  learned 
sock,  the  flowing  vein  of  Middleton,  Heywood's  ease,  the  pathos  of 
Webster,  and  Marlowe's  deep  designs,  add  a  double  lustre  to  the 
sweetness,  thought,  gravity,  grace,  wit,  artless  nature,  copiousness, 
ease,  pathos,  and  sublime  conceptions  of  Shakspeare's  Muse.  They 
are  indeed  the  scale  by  which  we  can  best  ascend  to  the  true  know- 
ledge and  love  of  him.  Our  admiration  of  them  does  not  lessen 
our  relish  for  him,  but,  on  the  contrary,  increases  and  confirms  it. 
For  such  an  extraordinary  combination  and  development  of  fancy 
and  genius  many  causes  may  be  assigned ;  and  we  may  seek  for  the 
chief  of  them  in  religion,  in  politics,  in  the  circumstances  of  the 
time,  the  recent  diffusion  of  letters,  in  local  situation,  and  in  the 
character  of  the  men  who  adorned  that  period,  and  availed  them- 
selves so  nobly  of  the  advantages  placed  within  their  reach. 

I  shall  here  attempt  to  give  a  general  sketch  of  these  causes,  and 
of  the  manner  in  which  they  operated  to  mould  and  stamp  the 
poetry  of  the  country  at  the  period  of  which  I  have  to  treat, 
independently  of  incidental  and  fortuitous  causes,  for  which  there 
is  no  accounting,  but  which,  after  all,  have  often  the  greatest  share 
in  determining  the  most  important  results. 

The  first  cause  I  shall  mention  as  contributing  to  this  general 
effect  was  the  Reformation,  which  had  just  then  taken  place.  This 
event  gave  a  mighty  impulse  and  increased  activity  to  thought 
and  inquiry,  and  agitated  the  inert  mass  of  accumulated  prejudices 
throughout  Europe.  The  effect  of  the  concussion  was  general ;  but 
the  shock  was  greatest  in  this  country.  It  toppled  down  the  full- 
grown,  intolerable  abuses  of  centuries  at  a  blow ;  heaved  the  ground 
from  under  the  feet  of  bigoted  faith  and  slavish  obedience  ;  and  the 


174        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

roar  and  dashing  of  opinions,  loosened  from  their  accustomed  hold, 
might  be  heard  like  the  noise  of  an  angry  sea,  and  has  never  yet 
subsided.  Germany  first  broke  the  spell  of  misbegotten  fear,  and 
gave  the  watchword;  but  England  joined  the  shout,  and  echoed 
it  back  with  her  island  voice,  from  her  thousand  cliffs  and  craggy 
shores,  in  a  longer  and  a  louder  strain.  With  that  cry  the  genius 
of  Great  Britain  rose,  and  threw  down  the  gauntlet  to  the  nations. 
There  was  a  mighty  fermentation :  the  waters  were  out ;  public 
opinion  was  in  a  state  of  projection.  Liberty  was  held  out  to  all 
to  think  and  speak  the  truth.  Men's  brains  were  busy ;  their  spirits 
stirring ;  their  hearts  full ;  and  their  hands  not  idle.  Their  eyes 
were  opened  to  expect  the  greatest  things,  and  their  ears  burned 
with  curiosity  and  zeal  to  know  the  truth,  that  the  truth  might 
make  them  free.  The  death-blow  which  had  been  struck  at  scarlet 
vice  and  bloated  hypocrisy  loosened  their  tongues,  and  made  the 
talismans  and  love-tokens  of  Popish  superstition,  with  which  she 
had  beguiled  her  followers  and  committed  abominations  with  the 
people,  fall  harmless  from  their  necks. 

The  translation  of  the  Bible  was  the  chief  engine  in  the  great 
work.  It  threw  open,  by  a  secret  spring,  the  rich  treasures  of 
religion  and  morality,  which  had  been  there  locked  up  as  in  a 
shrine.  It  revealed  the  visions  of  the  prophets,  and  conveyed  the 
lessons  of  inspired  teachers  (such  they  were  thought)  to  the  meanest 
of  the  people.  It  gave  them  a  common  interest  in  the  common 
cause.  Their  hearts  burnt  within  them  as  they  read.  It  gave  a, 
mind  to  the  people,  by  giving  them  common  subjects  of  thought 
and  feeling.  It  cemented  their  union  of  character  and  sentiment ; 
it  created  endless  diversity  and  collision  of  opinion.  They  found 
objects  to  employ  their  faculties,  and  a  motive  in  the  magnitude 
of  the  consequences  attached  to  them,  to  exert  the  utmost  eager- 
ness in  the  pursuit  of  truth,  and  the  most  daring  intrepidity  in 
maintaining  it.  Religious  controversy  sharpens  the  understanding 
by  the  subtlety  and  remoteness  of  the  topics  it  discusses,  and 
braces  the  will  by  their  infinite  importance.  We  perceive  in  the 
history  of  this  period  a  nervous  masculine  intellect.  No  levity, 
no  feebleness,  no  indifference ;  or,  if  there  were,  it  is  a  relaxation 
from  the  intense  activity  which  gives  a  tone  to  its  general  character. 
But  there  is  a  gravity  approaching  to  piety ;  a  seriousness  of  impres- 
sion, a  conscientious  severity  of  argument,  an  habitual  fervour  and 
enthusiasm  in  their  mode  of  handling  almost  every  subject.  The 
debates  of  the  schoolmen  were  sharp  and  subtle  enough ;  but  they 
wanted  interest  and  grandeur,  and  were,  besides,  confined  to  a  few : 
they  did  not  affect  the  general  mass  of  the  community.  But  the 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE— INTRODUCTORY.      175 

Bible  was  thrown  open  to  all  ranks  and  conditions  "  to  run  and 
read,"  with  its  wonderful  Table  of  Contents  from  Genesis  to  the 
Revelations.  Every  village  in  England  would  present  the  scene  so 
well  described  in  Burns's  "  Cotter's  Saturday  Night."  I  cannot  think 
that  all  this  variety  and  weight  of  knowledge  could  be  thrown  in  all 
at  once  upon  the  mind  of  a  people,  and  not  make  some  impression 
upon  it,  the  traces  of  which  might  be  discerned  in  the  manners  and 
literature  of  the  age.  For  to  leave  more  disputable  points,  and 
take  only  the  historical  parts  of  the  Old  Testament,  or  the  moral 
sentiments  of  the  New,  there  is  nothing  like  them  in  the  power  of 
exciting  awe  and  admiration,  or  of  riveting  sympathy.  We  see 
what  Milton  has  made  of  the  account  of  the  Creation,  from  the 
manner  in  which  he  has  treated  it,  imbued  and  impregnated  with 
the  spirit  of  the  time  of  which  we  speak.  Or  what  is  there  equal 
(in  that  romantic  interest  and  patriarchal  simplicity  which  goes  to 
the  heart  of  a  country,  and  rouses  it,  as  it  were,  from  its  lair  in 
wastes  and  wildernesses)  to  the  story  of  Joseph  and  his  Brethren, 
of  Rachel  and  Laban,  of  Jacob's  Dream,  of  Ruth  and  Boaz,  the 
descriptions  in  the  Book  of  Job,  the  deliverance  of  the  Jews  out  of 
Egypt,  or  the  account  of  their  captivity  and  return  from  Babylon  ? 
There  is  in  all  these  parts  of  the  Scripture,  and  numberless  more 
of  the  same  kind,  to  pass  over  the  Orphic  hymns  of  David,  the  pro- 
phetic denunciations  of  Isaiah,  or  the  gorgeous  visions  of  Ezekiel, 
an  originality,  a  vastness  of  conception,  a  depth  and  tenderness  of 
feeling,  and  a  touching  simplicity  in  the  mode  of  narration,  which 
he  who  does  not  feel  need  be  made  of  no  "  penetrable  stuff."  There 
is  something  in  the  character  of  Christ,  too  (leaving  religious  faith 
quite  out  of  the  question),  of  more  sweetness  and  majesty,  and 
more  likely  to  work  a  change  in  the  mind  of  man,  by  the  contem- 
plation of  its  idea  alone,  than  any  to  be  found  in  history,  whether 
actual  or  feigned.  This  character  is  that  of  a  sublime  humanity, 
such  as  was  never  seen  on  earth  before  nor  since.  This  shone 
manifestly  both  in  His  words  and  actions.  We  see  it  in  His  wash- 
ing the  disciples'  feet  the  night  before  His  death,  that  unspeakable 
instance  of  humility  and  love,  above  all  art,  all  meanness,  and  all 
pride,  and  in  the  leave  He  took  of  them  on  that  occasion:  "My 
peace  I  give  unto  you;  that  peace  which  the  world  cannot  give, 
give  I  unto  you ; "  and  in  His  last  commandment,  that  "  they  should 
love  one  another."  Who  can  read  the  account  of  His  behaviour  on 
the  cross,  when,  turning  to  His  mother,  He  said,  "  Woman,  behold 
thy  son,"  and  to  the  disciple  John,  "Behold  thy  mother,"  and 
"  from  that  hour  that  disciple  took  her  to  his  own  home,"  without 
having  his  heart  smote  within  him  ?  We  see  it  in  His  treatment  of 

Q 


176         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

the  woman  taken  in  adultery,  and  in  His  excuse  for  the  woman  who 
poured  precious  ointment  on  His  garment  as  an  offering  of  devotion 
and  love,  which  is  here  all  in  all.  His  religion  was  the  religion  of  the 
heart.  We  see  it  in  His  discourse  with  the  disciples  as  they  walked 
together  towards  Emmaus,  when  their  hearts  burned  within  them ; 
in  His  Sermon  from  the  Mount,  in  His  parable  of  the  Good  Samari- 
tan, and  in  that  of  the  Prodigal  Son — in  every  act  and  word  of  His 
life  a  grace,  a  mildness,  a  dignity  and  love,  a  patience  and  wisdom 
worthy  of  the  Son  of  God.  His  whole  life  and  being  were  imbued, 
steeped  in  this  word,  charity ;  it  was  the  spring,  the  well-head  from 
which  every  thought  and  feeling  gushed  into  act ;  and  it  was  thia 
that  breathed  a  mild  glory  from  His  face  in  that  last  agony  upon 
the  cross,  "  when  the  meek  Saviour  bowed  His  head  and  died,"  pray- 
ing for  His  enemies.  He  was  the  first  true  teacher  of  morality ;  for 
He  alone  conceived  the  idea  of  a  pure  humanity.  He  redeemed  man 
from  the  worship  of  that  idol,  self,  and  instructed  him  by  precept 
and  example  to  love  his  neighbour  as  himself,  to  forgive  our  enemies, 
to  do  good  to  those  that  curse  us  and  despitefully  use  us.  He  taught 
the  love  of  good  for  the  sake  of  good,  without  regard  to  personal  or 
sinister  views,  and  made  the  affections  of  the  heart  the  sole  seat  of 
morality,  instead  of  the  pride  of  the  understanding  or  the  sternness 
of  the  will.  In  answering  the  question,  "  Who  is  our  neighbour  ?  " 
as  one  who  stands  in  need  of  our  assistance,  and  whose  wounds  we 
can  bind  up,  He  has  done  more  to  humanise  the  thoughts  and  tame 
the  unruly  passions  than  all  who  have  tried  to  reform  and  benefit 
mankind.  The  very  idea  of  abstract  benevolence,  of  the  desire  to 
do  good  because  another  wants  our  services,  and  of  regarding  the 
human  race  as  one  family,  the  offspring  of  one  common  parent,  is 
hardly  to  be  found  in  any  other  code  or  system.  It  was  "  to  the 
Jews  a  stumbling-block,  and  to  the  Greeks  foolishness."  The  Greeks 
and  Romans  never  thought  of  considering  others,  but  as  they  were 
Greeks  or  Romans,  as  they  were  bound  to  them  by  certain  positive 
ties,  or,  on  the  other  hand,  as  separated  from  them  by  fiercer  anti- 
pathies. Their  virtues  were  the  virtues  of  political  machines  ;  their 
vices  were  the  vices  of  demons,  ready  to  inflict  or  to  endure  pain 
with  obdurate  and  remorseless  inflexibility  of  purpose.  But  in 
the  Christian  religion  "  we  perceive  a  softness  coming  over  the 
heart  of  a  nation,  and  the  iron  scales  that  fence  and  harden  it  melt 
and  drop  off."  It  becomes  malleable,  capable  of  pity,  of  forgiveness, 
of  relaxing  in  its  claims  and  remitting  its  power.  We  strike  it,  and 
is  does  not  hurt  us  :  it  is  not  steel  or  marble,  but  flesh  and  blood, 
clay  tempered  with  tears,  and (<  soft  as  sinews  of  the  new-born  babe." 
The  Gospel  was  first  preached  to  the  poor,  for  it  consulted  their 


I 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE— INTRODUCTORY.      177 

wants  and  interests,  not  its  own  pride  and  arrogance.  It  first  pro- 
mulgated the  equality  of  mankind  in  the  community  of  duties  and 
benefits.  It  denounced  the  iniquities  of  the  chief  priests  and  Phari- 
sees, and  declared  itself  at  variance  with  principalities  and  powers, 
for  it  sympathises  not  with  the  oppressor  but  the  oppressed.  It 
first  abolished  slavery,  for  it  did  not  consider  the  power  of  the  will 
to  inflict  injury  as  clothing  it  with  a  right  to  do  so.  Its  law  is 
good,  not  power.  It  at  the  same  time  tended  to  wean  the  mind 
from  the  grossness  of  sense,  and  a  particle  of  its  divine  flame  was 
lent  to  brighten  and  purify  the  lamp  of  love  ! 

There  have  been  persons  who,  being  sceptics  as  to  the  Divine 
mission  of  Christ,  having  taken  an  unaccountable  prejudice  to  His 
doctrines,  and  have  been  disposed  to  deny  the  merit  of  His  character; 
but  this  was  not  the  feeling  of  the  great  men  in  the  age  of  Elizabeth 
(whatever  might  be  their  belief),  one  of  whom  says  of  Him,  with  a 
boldness  equal  to  its  piety  : 

"  The  best  of  men 

That  e'er  wore  earth  about  Him  was  a  sufferer ; 

A  soft,  meek,  patient,  humble,  tranquil  spirit ; 

The  first  true  gentleman  that  ever  breathed." 

This  was  old  honest  Decker,  and  the  lines  ought  to  embalm  his 
memory  to  every  one  who  has  a  sense  either  of  religion,  or  philosophy, 
or  humanity,  or  true  genius.  Nor  can  I  help  thinking  that  we  may 
discern  the  traces  of  the  influence  exerted  by  religious  faith  in  the 
spirit  of  the  poetry  of  the  age  of  Elizabeth,  in  the  means  of  exciting 
terror  and  pity,  in  the  delineation  of  the  passions  of  grief,  remorse, 
love,  sympathy,  the  sense  of  shame,  in  the  fond  desires,  the  longings 
after  immortality,  in  the  heaven  of  hope  and  the  abyss  of  despair  it 
lays  open  to  us. 

The  literature  of  this  age,  then,  I  would  say,  was  strongly  in- 
fluenced (among  other  causes),  first  by  the  spirit  of  Christianity,  and 
secondly  by  the  spirit  of  Protestantism. 

The  effects  of  the  Reformation  on  politics  and  philosophy  may 
be  seen  in  the  writings  and  history  of  the  next  and  of  the  following 
ages.  They  are  still  at  work,  and  will  continue  to  be  so.  The 
effects  on  the  poetry  of  the  time  were  chiefly  confined  to  the  mould- 
ing of  the  character,  and  giving  a  powerful  impulse  to  the  intellect 
of  the  country.  The  immediate  use  or  application  that  was  made  of 
religion  to  subjects  of  imagination  and  fiction  was  not  (from  an 
obvious  ground  of  separation)  so  direct  or  frequent  as  that  which 
was  made  of  the  classical  and  romantic  literature. 

For  much  about  the  same  time,  the  rich  and  fascinating  stores  of 
the  Greek  *«id  Roman  mythology,  and  those  of  the  romantic  poetry 


178         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

of  Spain  and  Italy,  were  eagerly  explored  by  the  curious,  and  thrown 
open  in  translations  to  the  admiring  gaze  of  the  vulgar.  This  last 
circumstance  could  hardly  have  afforded  so  much  advantage  to  the 
poets  of  that  day,  who  were  themselves,  in  fact,  the  translators,  as  it 
shows  the  general  curiosity  and  increasing  interest  in  such  subjects 
as  a  prevailing  feature  of  the  tunes.  There  were  translations  of 
Tasso  by  Fairfax,  and  of  Ariosto  by  Harrington,  of  Homer  and 
Hesiod  by  Chapman,  and  of  Virgil  long  before,  and  Ovid  soon  after; 
there  was  Sir  Thomas  North's  translation  of  Plutarch,  of  which  Shak- 
speare  has  made  such  admirable  use  in  his  "  Coriolanus  "  and  "Julius 
Csesar;"  and  Ben  Jonson's  tragedies  of  "Catiline"  and  "Sejanus" 
may  themselves  be  considered  as  almost  literal  translations  into 
verse  of  Tacitus,  Sallust,  and  Cicero's  "Orations"  in  his  consulship. 
Boccaccio,  the  divine  Boccaccio,  Petrarch,  Dante,  the  satirist  Aretine, 
Machiavel,  Castiglione,  and  others  were  familiar  to  our  writers,  and 
they  make  occasional  mention  of  some  few  French  authors,  as 
Ronsard  and  Du  Bartas ;  for  the  French  literature  had  not  at  this 
stage  arrived  at  its  Augustan  period,  and  it  was  the  imitation  of 
their  literature  a  century  afterwards,  when  it  had  arrived  at  its 
greatest  height  (itself  copied  from  the  Greek  and  Latin),  that  en- 
feebled and  impoverished  our  own.  But  of  the  time  that  we  are 
considering  it  might  be  said,  without  much  extravagance,  that  every 
breath  that  blew,  that  every  wave  that  rolled  to  our  shores,  brought 
with  it  some  accession  to  our  knowledge,  which  was  engrafted  on 
the  national  genius.  In  fact,  all  the  disposable  materials  that  had 
been  accumulating  for  a  long  period  of  time,  either  in  our  own  or 
in  foreign  countries,  were  now  brought  together,  and  required 
nothing  more  than  to  be  wrought  up,  polished,  or  arranged  in 
striking  forms,  for  ornament  and  use.  To  this  every  inducement 
prompted :  the  novelty  of  the  acquisition  of  knowledge  in  many 
cases,  the  emulation  of  foreign  wits  and  of  immortal  works,  the 
want  and  the  expectation  of  such  works  among  ourselves,  the  op- 
portunity and  encouragement  afforded  for  their  production  by 
leisure  and  affluence ;  and,  above  all,  the  insatiable  desire  of  the 
mind  to  beget  its  own  image,  and  to  construct  out  of  itself,  and  for 
the  delight  and  admiration  of  the  world  and  posterity,  that  excel- 
lence of  which  the  idea  exists  hitherto  only  in  its  own  breast,  and 
the  impression  of  which  it  would  make  as  universal  as  the  eye  of 
Heaven,  the  benefit  as  common  as  the  air  we  breathe.  The  first 
impulse  of  genius  is  to  create  what  never  existed  before :  the  con- 
templation of  that  which  is  so  created  is  sufficient  to  satisfy  the 
demands  of  taste  ;  and  it  is  the  habitual  study  and  imitation  of  the 
original  models  that  takes  away  the  power  and  even  wish  to  do  the 


ELIZABETHAN  LITERATURE—INTRODUCTORY.      179 

like.  Taste  limps  after  genius,  and  from  copying  the  artificial 
models  we  lose  sight  of  the  living  principle  of  nature.  It  is  the 
effort  we  make  and  the  impulse  we  acquire  in  overcoming  the  first 
obstacles  that  projects  us  forward ;  it  is  the  necessity  for  exertion 
that  makes  us  conscious  of  our  strength ;  but  this  necessity  and  this 
impulse  once  removed,  the  tide  of  fancy  and  enthusiasm,  which  is  at 
first  a  running  stream,  soon  settles  and  crusts  into  the  standing 
pool  of  dulness,  criticism,  and  vertu. 

What  also  gave  an  unusual  impetus  to  the  mind  of  man  at  this 
period  was  the  discovery  of  the  New  World  and  the  reading  of 
voyages  and  travels.  Green  islands  and  golden  sands  seemed  to 
arise,  as  by  enchantment,  out  of  the  bosom  of  the  watery  waste, 
and  invite  the  cupidity  or  wing  the  imagination  of  the  dreaming 
speculator.  Fairyland  was  realised  in  new  and  unknown  worlds. 
"  Fortunate  fields  and  groves  and  flowery  vales,  thrice  happy  isles," 
were  found  floating,  "  like  those  Hesperian  gardens  famed  of  old," 
beyond  Atlantic  seas,  as  dropped  from  the  zenith.  The  people,  the 
soil,  the  clime,  everything  gave  unlimited  scope  to  the  curiosity  of 
the  traveller  and  reader.  Other  manners  might  be  said  to  enlarge 
the  bounds  of  knowledge,  and  new  mines  of  wealth  were  tumbled 
at  our  feet.  It  is  from  a  voyage  to  the  Straits  of  Magellan  that 
Shakspeare  has  taken  the  hint  of  Prospero's  Enchanted  Island,  and 
of  the  savage  Caliban  with  his  god  Setebos.  Spenser  seems  to  have 
had  the  same  feeling  in  his  mind  in  the  production  of  his  "  Faery 
Queen,"  and  vindicates  his  poetic  fiction  on  this  very  ground  of 
analogy.  .  .  . 

Lastly,  to  conclude  this  account :  What  gave  a  unity  and  common 
direction  to  all  these  causes  was  the  natural  genius  of  the  country, 
which  was  strong  in  these  writers  in  proportion  to  their  strength. 
We  are  a  nation  of  islanders,  and  we  cannot  help  it,  nor  mend  our- 
selves if  we  would.  We  are  something  in  ourselves,  nothing  when 
we  try  to  ape  others.  Music  and  painting  are  not  our  forte;  for 
what  we  have  done  in  that  way  has  been  little,  and  that  borrowed 
from  others  with  great  difficulty.  But  we  may  boast  of  our  poets 
and  philosophers.  That's  something.  We  have  had  strong  heads 
and  sound  hearts  among  us.  Thrown  on  one  side  of  the  world,  and 
left  to  bustle  for  ourselves,  we  have  fought  out  many  a  battle  for 
truth  and  freedom.  That  is  our  natural  style ;  and  it  were  to  be 
wished  we  had  in  no  instance  departed  from  it.  Our  situation  has 
given  us  a  certain  cast  of  thought  and  character,  and  our  liberty 
has  enabled  us  to  make  the  most  of  it.  We  are  of  a  stiff  clay,  not 
moulded  into  every  fashion,  with  stubborn  joints  not  easily  bent. 
We  are  slow  to  think,  and  therefore  impressions  do  not  work  upon 


i8o        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC, 

us  till  they  act  in  masses.  We  are  not  forward  to  express  our 
feelings,  and  therefore  they  do  not  come  from  us  till  they  force 
their  way  in  the  most  impetuous  eloquence.  Our  language  is,  as 
it  were,  to  begin  anew,  and  we  make  use  of  the  most  singular  and 
boldest  combinations  to  explain  ourselves.  Our  wit  comes  from  us, 
"  like  birdlime,  brains  and  all."  We  pay  too  little  attention  to 
form  and  method,  leave  our  works  in  an  unfinished  state,  but  still 
the  materials  we  work  in  are  solid  and  of  Nature's  mint ;  we  do  not 
deal  in  counterfeits.  We  both  under  and  over  do,  but  we  keep  an 
eye  to  the  prominent  features,  the  main  chance.  We  are  more  for 
weight  than  show ;  care  only  about  what  interests  ourselves,  instead 
of  trying  to  impose  upon  others  by  plausible  appearances,  and  are 
obstinate  and  intractable  in  not  conforming  to  common  rules,  by 
which  many  arrive  at  their  ends  with  half  the  real  waste  of  thought 
and  trouble.  We  neglect  all  but  the  principal  object,  gather  our 
force  to  make  a  great  blow,  bring  it  down,  and  relapse  into  sluggish- 
ness and  indifference  again.  Materiam  superabat  opus  cannot  be  said 
of  us.  We  may  be  accused  of  grossness,  but  not  of  flimsiness ;  of 
extravagance,  but  not  of  affectation ;  of  want  of  art  and  refinement, 
but  not  of  a  want  of  truth  and  nature.  Our  literature,  in  a  word, 
is  Gothic  and  grotesque,  unequal  and  irregular,  not  cast  in  a 
previous  mould,  nor  of  one  uniform  texture,  but  of  great  weight 
in  the  whole,  and  of  incomparable  value  in  the  best  parts.  It  aims 
at  an  excess  of  beauty  or  power,  hits  or  misses,  and  is  either  very 
good  indeed  or  absolutely  good  for  nothing.  This  character  applies 
in  particular  to  our  literature  in  the  age  of  Elizabeth,  which  is  its 
best  period,  before  the  introduction  of  a  rage  for  French  rules  and 
French  models ;  for,  whatever  may  be  the  value  of  our  own  original 
style  of  composition,  there  can  be  neither  offence  nor  presumption 
in  saying,  that  it  is  at  least  better  than  our  second-hand  imitations 
of  others.  Our  understanding  (such  as  it  is  and  must  remain  to 
be  good  for  anything)  is  not  a  thoroughfare  for  commonplaces, 
smooth  as  the  palm  of  one's  hand,  but  full  of  knotty  points  and 
jutting  excrescences,  rough,  uneven,  overgrown  with  brambles ;  and 
I  like  this  aspect  of  the  mind  (as  some  one  said  of  the  country), 
where  nature  keeps  a  good  deal  of  the  soil  in  her  own  hands. 
Perhaps  the  genius  of  our  poetry  has  more  of  Pan  than  of  Apollo ; 
"  but  Pan  is  a  god,  Apollo  is  no  more ! " 

WEBSTER  AND  DECKER. 

IT  remains  for  me  to  say  something  of  Webster  and  Decker.  For 
these  two  writers  I  do  not  know  how  to  show  my  regard  and  admira- 


THE  EARLY  DRAMATISTS.  181 

tion  sufficiently.  Noble-minded  Webster,  gentle-hearted  Decker, 
how  may  I  hope  to  "express  ye  unblamed,"  and  repay  to  your 
neglected  manes  some  part  of  the  debt  of  gratitude  I  owe  for  proud 
and  soothing  recollections  ?  I  pass  by  the  "  Appius  and  Virginia  "  of 
the  former,  which  is,  however,  a  good,  sensible,  solid  tragedy,  cast 
in  a  framework  of  the  most  approved  models,  with  little  to  blame 
or  praise  in  it,  except  the  affecting  speech  of  Appius  to  Virginia  just 
before  he  kills  her ;  as  well  as  Decker's  "  Wonder  of  a  Kingdom,"  his 
Jacomo  Gentili,  that  truly  ideal  character  of  a  magnificent  patron, 
and  Old  Fortunatus  and  his  Wishing-cap,  which  last  has  the  idle 
garrulity  of  age,  with  the  freshness  and  gaiety  of  youth  still  upon 
its  cheek  and  in  its  heart.  These  go  into  the  common  catalogue, 
and  are  lost  in  the  crowd ;  but  Webster's  "  Vittoria  Corombona  "  I 
cannot  so  soon  part  with ;  and  old  honest  Decker's  Signer  Orlando 
Friscobaldo  I  shall  never  forget !  I  became  only  of  late  acquainted 
with  this  last-mentioned  worthy  character,  but  the  bargain  between 
us  is,  I  trust,  for  life.  We  sometimes  regret  that  we  had  not  sooner 
met  with  characters  like  these,  that  seem  to  raise,  revive,  and  give 
a  new  zest  to  our  being.  Vain  the  complaint  1  We  should  never 
have  known  their  value  if  we  had  not  known  them  always:  they 
are  old,  very  old  acquaintance,  or  we  should  not  recognise  them  at 
first  sight.  We  only  find  in  books  what  is  already  written  within 
"  the  red-leaved  tables  of  our  hearts."  The  pregnant  materials  are 
there;  "the  pangs,  the  internal  pangs  are  ready;  and  poor  humanity's 
afflicted  will  struggling  in  vain  with  ruthless  destiny."  But  the 
reading  of  fine  poetry  may  indeed  open  the  bleeding  wounds,  or  pour 
balm  and  consolation  into  them,  or  sometimes  even  close  them  up 
for  ever !  .  .  . 

THE  EARLY  DRAMATISTS— APOSTROPHE. 

...  IN  short,  the  great  characteristic  of  the  elder  dramatic  writers 
is,  that  there  is  nothing  theatrical  about  them.  In  reading  them  you 
only  think  how  the  persons  into  whose  mouths  certain  sentiments 
are  put  would  have  spoken  or  looked :  in  reading  Dryden  and  others 
of  that  school  you  only  think,  as  the  authors  themselves  seem  to 
have  done,  how  they  would  be  ranted  on  the  stage  by  some  buskined 
hero  or  tragedy-queen.  In  this  respect,  indeed,  some  of  his  more 
obscure  contemporaries  have  the  advantage  over  Shakspeare  himself, 
inasmuch  as  we  have  never  seen  their  works  represented  on  the 
stage ;  and  there  is  no  stage-trick  to  remind  us  of  it.  The  characters 
of  their  heroes  have  not  been  cut  down  to  fit  into  the  prompt-book, 
nor  have  we  ever  seen  their  names  flaring  in  the  play-bills  in  small 


i82         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

or  large  capitals.  I  do  not  mean  to  speak  disrespectfully  of  the 
stage ;  but  I  think  still  higher  of  nature,  and  next  to  that,  of  books. 
They  are  the  nearest  to  our  thoughts :  they  wind  into  the  heart ; 
the  poet's  verse  slides  into  the  current  of  our  blood.  We  read  them 
when  young ;  we  remember  them  when  old.  We  read  there  of  what 
has  happened  to  others ;  we  feel  that  it  has  happened  to  ourselves. 
They  are  to  be  had  everywhere  cheap  and  good.  We  breathe  but 
the  air  of  books :  we  owe  everything  to  their  authors,  on  this  side 
barbarism ;  and  we  pay  them  easily  with  contempt  while  living,  and 
with  an  epitaph  when  dead !  Michael  Angelo  is  beyond  the  Alps ; 
Mrs.  Siddons  has  left  the  stage,  and  us  to  mourn  her  loss.  Were 
it  not  so,  there  are  neither  picture-galleries  nor  theatres-royal  on 
Salisbury  Plain,  where  I  write  this ;  but  here,  even  here,  with  a  few 
old  authors,  I  can  manage  to  get  through  the  summer  or  the  winter 
months  without  ever  knowing  what  it  is  to  feel  ennui.  They  sit 
with  me  at  breakfast ;  they  walk  out  with  me  before  dinner.  After 
a  long  walk  through  unfrequented  tracks,  after  starting  the  hare 
from  the  fern,  or  hearing  the  wing  of  the  raven  rustling  above  my 
head,  or  being  greeted  by  the  woodman's  "  stern  good-night,"  as  he 
strikes  into  his  narrow  homeward  path,  I  can  "  take  mine  ease  at 
mine  inn,"  beside  the  blazing  hearth,  and  shake  hands  with  Signor 
Orlando  Friscobaldo,  as  the  oldest  acquaintance  I  have.  Ben 
Jonson,  learned  Chapman,  Master  Webster,  and  Master  Heywood  are 
there,  and  seated  round,  discourse  the  silent  hours  away.  Shakspeare 
is  there  himself,  not  in  Gibber's  manager's  coat.  Spenser  is  hardly 
yet  returned  from  a  ramble  through  the  woods,  or  is  concealed 
behind  a  group  of  nymphs,  fawns,  and  satyrs.  Milton  lies  on  the 
table,  as  on  an  altar,  never  taken  up  or  laid  down  without  reverence. 
Lyly's  Endymion  sleeps  with  the  moon,  that  shines  in  at  the  window, 
and  a  breath  of  wind  stirring  at  a  distance  seems  a  sigh  from  the 
tree  under  which  he  grew  old.  Faustus  disputes  in  one  corner  of 
the  room  with  fiendish  faces,  and  reasons  of  divine  astrology.  Bella- 
front  soothes  Matheo,  Vittoria  triumphs  over  her  judges,  and  old 
Chapman  repeats  one  of  the  hymns  of  Homer,  in  his  own  fine  trans- 
lation !  I  should  have  no  objection  to  pass  my  life  in  this  manner 
out  of  the  world,  not  thinking  of  it,  nor  it  of  me :  neither  abused 
by  my  enemies  nor  defended  by  my  friends ;  careless  of  the  future, 
but  sometimes  dreaming  of  the  past,  which  might  as  well  be  for- 
gotten. Mr.  Wordsworth  has  expressed  this  sentiment  well  (perhaps 
I  have  borrowed  it  from  him)  : 

"  Books,  dreams,  are  each  a  world  ;  and  books,  we  know, 
Are  a  substantial  world,  both  pure  and  good, 


BACON.  183 

Bound  these,  with  tendrils  strong  as  flesh  and  blood, 
Our  pastime  and  our  happiness  will  grow. 

Two  shall  be  named  pre-eminently  dear, 

The  gentle  lady  married  to  the  Moor, 

And  heavenly  Una  with  her  milk-white  lamb. 

Blessings  be  with  them  and  eternal  praise, 
The  poets,  who  on  earth  have  made  us  heirs 
Of  truth  and  pure  delight  in  deathless  lays. 
Oh,  might  my  name  be  number'd  among  theirs, 
Then  gladly  would  I  end  my  mortal  days  ! " 

I  have  no  sort  of  pretension  to  join  in  the  concluding  wish  of  the 
last  stanza ;  but  I  trust  the  writer  feels  that  this  aspiration  of  his 
early  and  highest  ambition  is  already  not  unfulfilled ! 


BACON. 

BACON  has  been  called  (and  justly)  one  of  the  wisest  of  mankind. 
The  word  wisdom  characterises  him  more  than  any  other.  It  was 
not  that  he  did  so  much  himself  to  advance  the  knowledge  of  man 
or  nature,  as  that  he  saw  what  others  had  done  to  advance  it,  and 
what  was  still  wanting  to  its  full  accomplishment.  He  stood  upon 
the  high  vantage-ground  of  genius  and  learning,  and  traced,  "  as 
in  a  map  the  voyager  his  course,"  the  long  devious  march  of  human 
intellect,  its  elevations  and  depressions,  its  windings  and  its  errors. 
He  had  a  "  large  discourse  of  reason,  looking  before  and  after."  He 
had  made  an  exact  and  extensive  survey  of  human  acquirements : 
he  took  the  gauge  and  meter,  the  depths  and  soundings  of  the 
human  capacity.  He  was  master  of  the  comparative  anatomy  of 
the  mind  of  man,  of  the  balance  of  power  among  the  different  facul- 
ties. He  had  thoroughly  investigated  and  carefully  registered  the 
steps  and  processes  of  his  own  thoughts,  with  their  irregularities 
and  failures,  their  liabilities  to  wrong  conclusions,  either  from  the 
difficulties  of  the  subject  or  from  moral  causes,  from  prejudice,  in- 
dolence, vanity,  from  conscious  strength  or  weakness ;  and  he  applied 
this  self-knowledge  on  a  mighty  scale  to  the  general  advances  or 
retrograde  movements  of  the  aggregate  intellect  of  the  world.  He 
knew  well  what  the  goal  and  crown  of  moral  and  intellectual  power 
was,  how  far  men  had  fallen  short  of  it,  and  how  they  came  to  miss 
it.  He  had  an  instantaneous  perception  of  the  quantity  of  truth 
or  good  in  any  given  system,  and  of  the  analogy  of  any  given  result 
or  principle  to  others  of  the  same  kind  scattered  through  nature  or 
history.  His  observations  take  in  a  larger  range,  have  more  pro- 


184        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

fundity  from  the  fineness  of  his  tact,  and  more  comprehension  from 
the  extent  of  his  knowledge,  along  the  line  of  which  his  imagination 
ran  with  equal  celerity  and  certainty,  than  any  other  persons  whose 
writings  I  know.  He,  however,  seized  upon  these  results  rather  by 
intuition  than  by  inference :  he  knew  them  in  their  mixed  modes 
and  combined  effects  rather  than  by  abstraction  or  analysis,  as  he 
explains  them  to  others,  not  by  resolving  them  into  their  component 
parts  and  elementary  principles,  so  much  as  by  illustrations  drawn 
from  other  things  operating  in  like  manner  and  producing  similar 
results;  or  as  he  himself  has  finely  expressed  it,  "by  the  same 
footsteps  of  Nature  treading  or  printing  upon  several  subjects  or 
matters."  He  had  great  sagacity  of  observation,  solidity  of  judg- 
ment, and  scope  of  fancy ;  in  this  resembling  Plato  and  Burke,  that 
he  was  a  popular  philosopher  and  a  philosophical  declaimer.  His 
writings  have  the  gravity  of  prose  with  the  fervour  and  vividness  of 
poetry.  His  sayings  have  the  effect  of  axioms,  are  at  once  striking 
and  self-evident.  He  views  objects  from  the  greatest  height,  and 
his  reflections  require  a  sublimity  in  proportion  to  their  profundity, 
as  in  deep  wells  of  water  we  see  the  sparkling  of  the  highest  fixed  stars. 
The  chain  of  thought  reaches  to  the  centre,  and  ascends  the  brightest 
heaven  of  invention.  Reason  in  him  works  like  an  instinct,  and  his 
slightest  suggestions  carry  the  force  of  conviction.  His  opinions  are 
judicial.  His  induction  of  particulars  is  alike  wonderful  for  learning 
and  vivacity,  for  curiosity  and  dignity,  and  an  all-pervading  intellect 
binds  the  whole  together  in  a  graceful  and  pleasing  form.  His  style 
is  equally  sharp  and  sweet,  flowing  and  pithy,  condensed  and  ex- 
pansive, expressing  volumes  in  a  sentence,  or  amplifying  a  single 
thought  into  pages  of  rich,  glowing,  and  delightful  eloquence.  He 
had  great  liberality  from  seeing  the  various  aspects  of  things  (there 
was  nothing  bigoted  or  intolerant  or  exclusive  about  him),  and  yet 
he  had  firmness  and  decision  from  feeling  their  weight  and  conse- 
quences. His  character  was,  then,  an  amazing  insight  into  the  limits 
of  human  knowledge  and  acquaintance  with  the  landmarks  of  human 
intellect,  so  as  to  trace  its  past  history  or  point  out  the  path  to 
future  inquirers ;  but  when  he  quits  the  ground  of  contemplation  of 
what  others  have  done  or  left  undone  to  project  himself  into  future 
discoveries,  he  becomes  quaint  and  fantastic,  instead  of  original. 
His  strength  was  in  reflection,  not  in  production :  he  was  the  sur- 
veyor, not  the  builder,  of  the  fabric  of  science.  He  had  not  strictly 
the  constructive  faculty.  He  was  the  principal  pioneer  in  the  march 
of  modern  philosophy,  and  has  completed  the  education  and  dis- 
cipline of  the  mind  for  the  acquisition  of  truth,  by  explaining  all 
the  impediments  or  furtherances  that  can  be  applied  to  it  or  cleared 


SIR  THOMAS  BROWNE.  185 

out  of  its  way.  In  a  word,  he  was  one  of  the  greatest  men  this 
country  has  to  boast,  and  his  name  deserves  to  stand,  where  it  is 
generally  placed,  by  the  side  of  those  of  our  greatest  writers,  whether 
we  consider  the  variety,  the  strength,  or  splendour  of  his  faculties, 
for  ornament  or  use.  . 


SIR  THOMAS  BROWNE. 

SIR,  THOMAS  BROWNE  and  Bishop  Taylor  were  two  prose-writers 
in  the  succeeding  age,  who,  for  pomp  and  copiousness  of  style,  might 
be  compared  to  Bacon.  In  all  other  respects  they  were  opposed  to 
him  and  to  one  another.  As  Bacon  seemed  to  bend  all  his  thoughts 
to  the  practice  of  life,  and  to  bring  home  the  light  of  science  to  "the 
bosoms  and  businesses  of  men,"  Sir  Thomas  Browne  seemed  to  be 
of  opinion  that  the  only  business  of  life  was  to  think,  and  that  the 
proper  object  of  speculation  was,  by  darkening  knowledge,  to  breed 
more  speculation,  and  "  find  no  en4  in  wandering  mazes  lost."  He 
chose  the  incomprehensible  and  impracticable  as  almost  the  only 
subjects  fit  for  a  lofty  and  lasting  contemplation,  or  for  the  exercise 
of  a  solid  faith.  He  cried  out  for  an  oh  altitudo  beyond  the  heights 
of  revelation,  and  posed  himself  with  apocryphal  mysteries,  as  the 
pastime  of  his  leisure  hours.  He  pushes  a  question  to  the  utmost 
verge  of  conjecture,  that  he  may  repose  on  the  certainty  of  doubt ; 
and  he  removes  an  object  to  the  greatest  distance  from  him,  that 
he  may  take  a  high  and  abstracted  interest  in  it,  consider  it  in  its 
relation  to  the  sum  of  things,  not  to  himself,  and  bewilder  his  un- 
derstanding in  the  universality  of  its  nature  and  the  inscrutable- 
ness  of  its  origin.  His  is  the  sublime  of  indifference ;  a  passion  for 
the  abstruse  and  imaginary.  He  turns  the  world  round  for  his 
amusement,  as  if  it  was  a  globe  of  pasteboard.  He  looks  down  on 
sublunary  affairs  as  if  he  had  taken  his  station  in  one  of  the  planets. 
The  antipodes  are  next-door  neighbours  to  him,  and  doomsday  is 
not  far  off.  With  a  thought  he  embraces  both  the  poles  ;  the  march 
of  his  pen  is  over  the  great  divisions  of  geography  and  chronology. 
Nothing  touches  him  nearer  than  humanity.  He  feels  that  he  is 
mortal  only  in  the  decay  of  nature  and  the  dust  of  long-forgotten 
tombs.  The  finite  is  lost  in  the  infinite.  The  orbits  of  the  heavenly 
bodies  or  the  history  of  empires  are  to  him  but  a  point  in  time  or  a 
speck  in  the  universe.  The  great  Platonic  year  revolves  in  one  of 
his  periods.  Nature  is  too  little  for  the  grasp  of  his  style.  He 
scoops  an  antithesis  out  of  fabulous  antiquity,  and  rakes  up  an 
epithet  from  the  sweepings  of  chaos.  It  is  as  if  his  books  had 
dropped  from  the  clouds,  or  as  if  Friar  Bacon's  head  could  speak. 


186        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

He  stands  on  the  edge  of  the  world  of  sense  and  reason,  and  gains  a 
vertigo  by  looking  down  at  impossibilities  and  chimeras.  Or  he  busies 
himself  with  the  mysteries  of  the  Cabala  or  the  enclosed  secrets 
of  the  heavenly  quincunxes,  as  children  are  amused  with  tales  of 
the  nursery.  The  passion  of  curiosity  (the  only  passion  of  child- 
hood) had  in  him  survived  to  old  age,  and  had  superannuated  his 
other  faculties.  He  moralises  and  grows  pathetic  on  a  mere  idle 
fancy  of  his  own,  as  if  thought  and  being  were  the  same,  or  as  if 
"all  this  world  were  one  glorious  lie."  For  a  thing  to  have  ever 
had  a  name  is  sufficient  warrant  to  entitle  it  to  respectful  belief, 
and  to  invest  it  with  all  the  rights  of  a  subject  and  its  predicates. 
He  is  superstitious,  but  not  bigoted :  to  him  all  religions  are  much 
the  same,  and  he  says  that  he  should  not  like  to  have  lived  in  the 
time  of  Christ  and  the  apostles,  as  it  would  have  rendered  his  faith 
too  gross  and  palpable.  His  gossiping  egotism  and  personal  char- 
acter have  been  preferred  unjustly  to  Montaigne's.  He  had  no 
personal  character  at  all,  but  the  peculiarity  of  resolving  all  the 
other  elements  of  his  being  into  thought,  and  of  trying  experiments 
on  his  own  nature  in  an  exhausted  receiver  of  idle  and  unsatisfactory 
speculations.  All  that  he  "  differences  himself  by,"  to  use  his  own 
expression,  is  this  moral  and  physical  indifference.  In  describing 
himself,  he  deals  only  in  negatives.  He  says  he  has  neither  pre- 
judices nor  antipathies  to  manners,  habits,  climate,  food,  to  persons 
or  things ;  they  were  alike  acceptable  to  him,  as  they  afforded  new 
topics  for  reflection;  and  he  even  professes  that  he  could  never 
bring  himself  heartily  to  hate  the  devil.  He  owns  in  one  place  of 
the  "  Religio  Medici,"  that  "  he  could  be  content  if  the  species  were 
continued  like  trees,"  and  yet  he  declares  that  this  was  from  no 
aversion  to  love,  or  beauty,  or  harmony ;  and  the  reasons  he  assigns 
to  prove  the  orthodoxy  of  his  taste  in  this  respect  is,  that  he  was 
an  admirer  of  the  music  of  the  spheres  !  He  tells  us  that  he  often 
composed  a  comedy  in  his  sleep.  It  would  be  curious  to  know  the 
subject  or  the  texture  of  the  plot.  It  must  have  been  something 
like  Nabbes's  "  Mask  of  Microcosmus,"  of  which  the  dramatis  personce 
have  been  already  given  ;  or  else  a  misnomer,  like  Dante's  "  Divine 
Comedy  of  Heaven,  Hell,  and  Purgatory."  He  was  twice  married,  as 
if  to  show  his  disregard  even  for  his  own  theory ;  and  he  had  a  hand 
in  the  execution  of  some  old  women  for  witchcraft,  I  suppose,  to 
keep  a  decorum  in  absurdity,  and  to  indulge  an  agreeable  horror  at 
his  own  fantastical  reveries  on  the  occasion.  In  a  word,  his  mind 
seemed  to  converse  chiefly  with  the  intelligible  forms,  the  spectral 
apparitions  of  things  ;  he  delighted  in  the  preternatural  and  vision- 
ary, and  he  only  existed  at  the  circumference  of  his  nature.  He 


JEREMY  TAYLOR.  187 

had  the  most  intense  consciousness  of  contradictions  and  nonenti- 
ties, and  he  decks  them  out  in  the  pride  and  pedantry  of  words  as 
if  they  were  the  attire  of  his  proper  person :  the  categories  hang 
about  his  neck  like  the  golden  chain  of  knighthood,  and  he  "  walks 
gowned  "  in  the  intricate  folds  and  sweeping  drapery  of  dark  sayings 
and  impenetrable  riddles !  .  .  . 

JEREMY  TAYLOR. 

JEREMY  TAYLOR  was  a  writer  as  different  from  Sir  Thomas  Browne 
as  it  was  possible  for  one  writer  to  be  from  another.  He  was  a 
dignitary  of  the  Church,  and  except  in  matters  of  casuistry  and  con- 
troverted points,  could  not  be  supposed  to  enter  upon  speculative 
doubts  or  give  a  loose  to  a  sort  of  dogmatical  scepticism.  He  had 
less  thought,  less  "  stuff  of  the  conscience,"  less  "  to  give  us  pause," 
in  his  impetuous  oratory,  but  he  had  equal  fancy — not  the  same 
vastness  and  profundity,  but  more  richness  and  beauty,  more  warmth 
and  tenderness.  He  is  as  rapid,  as  flowing  and  endless,  as  the  other 
is  stately,  abrupt,  and  concentrated.  The  eloquence  of  the  one  is 
like  a  river,  that  of  the  other  is  more  like  an  aqueduct.  The  one  is 
as  sanguine  as  the  other  is  saturnine  in  the  temper  of  his  mind. 
Jeremy  Taylor  took  obvious  and  admitted  truths  for  granted,  and 
illustrated  them  with  an  inexhaustible  display  of  new  and  enchant- 
ing imagery.  Sir  Thomas  Browne  talks  in  sum -totals :  Jeremy 
Taylor  enumerates  all  the  particulars  of  a  subject.  He  gives  every 
aspect  it  will  bear,  and  never  "  cloys  with  sameness."  His  charac- 
teristic is  enthusiastic  and  delightful  amplification.  Sir  Thomas 
Browne  gives  the  beginning  and  end  of  things,  that  you  may  judge 
of  their  place  and  magnitude :  Jeremy  Taylor  describes  their  quali- 
ties and  texture,  and  enters  into  all  the  items  of  the  debtor  and 
creditor  account  between  life  and  death,  grace  and  nature,  faith  and 
good  works.  He  puts  his  heart  into  his  fancy.  He  does  not  pretend 
to  annihilate  the  passions  and  pursuits  of  mankind  in  the  pride  of 
philosophic  indifference,  but  treats  them  as  serious  and  momentous 
things,  warring  with  conscience  and  the  soul's  health,  or  furnishing 
the  means  of  grace  and  hopes  of  glory.  In  his  writings,  the  frail 
stalk  of  human  life  reclines  on  the  bosom  of  eternity.  His  "  Holy 
Living  and  Dying  "  is  a  divine  pastoral.  He  writes  to  the  faithful 
followers  of  Christ,  as  the  shepherd  pipes  to  his  flock.  He  introduces 
touching  and  heartfelt  appeals  to  familiar  life ;  condescends  to  men 
of  low  estate ;  and  his  pious  page  blushes  with  modesty  and  beauty. 
His  style  is  prismatic.  It  unfolds  the  colours  of  the  rainbow;  it 
floats  like  the  bubble  through  the  air ;  it  is  like  innumerable  dew- 


1 88        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

drops  that  glitter  on  the  face  of  morning,  and  tremble  as  they  glitter. 
He  does  not  dig  his  way  underground,  but  slides  upon  ice,  borne  on 
the  winged  car  of  fancy.  The  dancing  light  he  throws  upon  objects 
is  like  an  aurora  borealis,  playing  betwixt  heaven  and  earth : 

"  Where  pure  Niemi's  faery  banks  arise, 
And  fringed  with  roses  Tenglio  rolls  its  stream." 

His  exhortations  to  piety  and  virtue  are  a  gay  memento  mori.  He 
mixes  up  death's-heads  and  amaranthine  flowers ;  makes  life  a  pro- 
cession to  the  grave,  but  crowns  it  with  gaudy  garlands,  and  "  rains 
sacrificial  roses  "  on  its  path.  In  a  word,  his  writings  are  more  like 
fine  poetry  than  any  other  prose  whatever ;  they  are  a  choral  song 
in  praise  of  virtue,  and  a  hymn  to  the  Spirit  of  the  Universe. 

CONCLUSION. 

I  HAVE  done:  and  if  I  have  done  no  better,  the  fault  has  been 
in  me,  not  in  the  subject.  My  liking  to  this  grew  with  my  know- 
ledge of  it ;  but  so  did  my  anxiety  to  do  it  justice.  I  somehow  felt 
it  as  a  point  of  honour  not  to  make  my  hearers  think  less  highly 
of  some  of  these  old  writers  than  I  myself  did  of  them.  If  I  have 
praised  an  author,  it  was  because  I  liked  him :  if  I  have  quoted  a 
passage,  it  was  because  it  pleased  me  in  the  reading:  if  I  have 
spoken  contemptuously  of  any  one,  it  has  been  reluctantly.  It  is 
no  easy  task  that  a  writer,  even  in  so  humble  a  class  as  myself, 
takes  upon  him ;  he  is  scouted  and  ridiculed  if  he  fails  ;  and  if  he 
succeeds,  the  enmity  and  cavils  and  malice  with  which  he  is  assailed 
are  just  in  proportion  to  his  success.  The  coldness  and  jealousy 
of  his  friends  not  infrequently  keep  pace  with  the  rancour  of  his 
enemies.  They  do  not  like  you  a  bit  the  better  for  fulfilling  the 
good  opinion  they  always  entertained  of  you.  They  would  wish  you 
to  be  always  promising  a  great  deal,  and  doing  nothing,  that  they 
may  answer  for  the  performance.  That  shows  their  sagacity  and 
does  not  hurt  their  vanity.  An  author  wastes  his  time  in  painful 
study  and  obscure  researches,  to  gain  a  little  breath  of  popularity, 
and  meets  with  nothing  but  vexation  and  disappointment  in 
ninety-nine  instances  out  of  a  hundred ;  or  when  he  thinks  to  grasp 
the  luckless  prize,  finds  it  not  worth  the  trouble — the  perfume  of 
a  minute,  fleeting  as  a  shadow,  hollow  as  a  sound ;  "  as  often  got 
without  merit  as  lost  without  deserving."  He  thinks  that  the 
attainment  of  acknowledged  excellence  will  secure  him  the  expres- 
sion of  those  feelings  in  others  which  the  image  and  hope  of  it 
had  excited  in  his  own  breast ;  but  instead  of  that,  he  meets  with 


THE  PAST  AND  FUTURE.  189 

nothing  (or  scarcely  nothing)  but  squint-eyed  suspicion,  idiot 
wonder,  and  grinning  scorn.  It  seems  hardly  worth  while  to  have 
taken  all  the  pains  he  has  been  at  for  this ! 

In  youth  we  borrow  patience  from  our  future  years:  the  spring 
of  hope  gives  us  courage  to  act  and  suffer.  A  cloud  is  upon  our 
onward  path,  and  we  fancy  that  all  is  sunshine  beyond  it.  The 
prospect  seems  endless,  because  we  do  not  know  the  end  of  it.  We 
think  that  life  is  long  because  art  is  so,  and  that  because  we  have 
much  to  do  it  is  well  worth  doing :  or  that  no  exertions  can  be  too 
great,  no  sacrifices  too  painful,  to  overcome  the  difficulties  we  have 
to  encounter.  Life  is  a  continued  struggle  to  be  what  we  are  not, 
and  to  do  what  we  cannot.  But  as  we  approach  the  goal  we  draw 
in  the  reins ;  the  impulse  is  less,  as  we  have  not  so  far  to  go :  as 
we  see  objects  nearer,  we  become  less  sanguine  in  the  pursuit :  it 
is  not  the  despair  of  not  attaining,  so  much  as  knowing  that  there 
is  nothing  worth  obtaining,  and  the  fear  of  having  nothing  left  even 
to  wish  for,  that  damps  our  ardour  and  relaxes  our  efforts ;  and  if 
the  mechanical  habit  did  not  increase  the  facility,  would,  I  believe, 
take  away  all  inclination  or  power  to  do  anything.  We  stagger 
on  the  few  remaining  paces  to  the  end  of  our  journey ;  make  per- 
haps one  final  effort ;  and  are  glad  when  our  task  is  done ! 


[Table-  Talk,  or  Original  Essays  on  Men  and  Manners,  2  vols.,  1821-2.  Second 
Edition,  1824.  Third  Edition,  1845-6.  Fourth  Edition,  1873.  Many 
of  these  Essays  originally  appeared  in  the  London  Magazine  and  other 
Periodicals.] 

THE  PAST  AND  FUTURE. 

I  HAVE  naturally  but  little  imagination,  and  am  not  of  a  very 
sanguine  turn  of  mind.  I  have  some  desire  to  enjoy  the  present 
good,  and  some  fondness  for  the  past ;  but  I  am  not  at  all  given  to 
building  castles  in  the  air,  nor  to  look  forward  with  much  confidence 
or  hope  to  the  brilliant  illusions  held  out  by  the  future.  Hence  I 
have  perhaps  been  led  to  form  a  theory  which  is  very  contrary  to 
the  common  notions  and  feelings  on  the  subject,  and  which  I  will 
here  try  to  explain  as  well  as  I  can. 

I  cannot  see,  then,  any  rational  or  logical  ground  for  that  mighty 
difference  in  the  value  which  mankind  generally  set  upon  the  past 
and  future,  as  if  the  one  was  everything  and  the  other  nothing — • 
of  no  consequence  whatever.  On  the  other  hand,  I  conceive  that 
the  past  is  as  real  and  substantial  a  part  of  our  being,  that  it  is  as 


igo        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

much  a  bond  fide,  undeniable  consideration  in  the  estimate  of  human 
life,  as  the  future  can  possibly  be.  To  say  that  the  past  is  of  no 
importance,  unworthy  of  a  moment's  regard,  because  it  has  gone  by 
and  is  no  longer  anything,  is  an  argument  that  cannot  be  held  to 
any  purpose ;  for  if  the  past  has  ceased  to  be,  and  is  therefore  to 
be  accounted  nothing  in  the  scale  of  good  or  evil,  the  future  is  yet 
to  come,  and  has  never  been  anything.  Should  any  one  choose  to 
assert  that  the  present  only  is  of  any  value  in  a  strict  and  positive 
sense,  because  that  alone  has  a  real  existence,  that  we  should  seize 
the  instant  good  and  give  all  else  to  the  winds,  I  can  understand 
what  he  means  (though  perhaps  he  does  not  himself)  ;  but  I  cannot 
comprehend  how  this  distinction  between  that  which  has  a  down- 
right and  sensible  and  that  which  has  only  a  remote  and  airy  exist- 
ence can  be  applied  to  establish  the  preference  of  the  future  over 
the  past ;  for  both  are  in  this  point  of  view  equally  ideal,  absolutely 
nothing,  except  as  they  are  conceived  of  by  the  mind's  eye,  and  are 
thus  rendered  present  to  the  thoughts  and  feelings.  Nay,  the  one 
is  even  more  imaginary,  a  more  fantastic  creature  of  the  brain  than 
the  other,  and  the  interest  we  take  in  it  more  shadowy  and  gratui- 
tous; for  the  future,  on  which  we  lay  so  much  stress,  may  never 
come  to  pass  at  all,  that  is,  may  never  be  embodied  into  actual 
existence  in  the  whole  course  of  events,  whereas  the  past  has  cer- 
tainly existed  once,  has  received  the  stamp  of  truth,  and  left  an 
image  of  itself  behind.  It  is  so  far,  then,  placed  beyond  the  possibility 
of  doubt,  or  as  the  poet  has  it, 

"  Those  joys  are  lodg'd  beyond  the  reach  of  fate." 

It  is  not,  however,  attempted  to  be  denied  that  though  the  future 
is  nothing  at  present,  and  has  no  immediate  interest  while  we  are 
speaking,  yet  it  is  of  the  utmost  consequence  in  itself,  and  of  the 
utmost  interest  to  the  individual,  because  it  will  have  a  real  exist- 
ence, and  we  have  an  idea  of  it  as  existing  in  time  to  come.  Well, 
then,  the  past  also  has  no  real  existence ;  the  actual  sensation  and 
the  interest  belonging  to  it  are  both  fled;  but  it  has  had  a  real 
existence,  and  we  can  still  call  up  a  vivid  recollection  of  it  as  having 
once  been ;  and  therefore,  by  parity  of  reasoning,  it  is  not  a  thing 
perfectly  insignificant  in  itself,  nor  wholly  indifferent  to  the  mind, 
whether  it  ever  was  or  not.  Oh  no !  Far  from  it !  Let  us  not 
rashly  quit  our  hold  upon  the  past,  when  perhaps  there  may  be  little 
else  left  to  bind  us  to  existence.  Is  it  nothing  to  have  been,  and  to 
have  been  happy  or  miserable  ?  Or  is  it  a  matter  of  no  moment  to 
think  whether  I  have  been  one  or  the  other  ?  Do  I  delude  myself, 
do  I  build  upon  a  shadow  or  a  dream,  do  I  dress  up  in  the  gaudy 


THE  PAST  AND  FUTURE.  191 

garb  of  idleness  and  folly  a  pure  fiction,  with  nothing  answering  to 
it  in  the  universe  of  things  and  the  records  of  truth,  when  I  look 
back  with  fond  delight  or  with  tender  regret  to  that  which  was 
at  one  time  to  me  my  all,  when  I  revive  the  glowing  image  of  some 
bright  reality, 

"  The  thoughts  of  which  can  never  from  my  heart"  ? 

Do  I  then  muse  on  nothing,  do  I  bend  my  eyes  on  nothing,  when 
I  turn  back  in  fancy  to  "  those  suns  and  skies  so  pure  "  that  lighted 
up  my  early  path  ?  Is  it  to  think  of  nothing,  to  set  an  idle  value 
upon  nothing,  to  think  of  all  that  has  happened  to  me,  and  of  all 
that  can  ever  interest  me  ?  Or,  to  use  the  language  of  a  fine  poet 
(who  is  himself  among  my  earliest  and  not  least  painful  recol- 
lections) : 

"  What  though  the  radiance  which  was  once  so  bright 
Be  now  for  ever  vanish'd  from  my  sight, 
Though  nothing  can  bring  back  the  hour 
Of  glory  in  the  grass,  of  splendour  in  the  flow'r  ? " — 

yet  am  I  mocked  with  a  lie  when  I  venture  to  think  of  it  ?  Or  do 
I  not  drink  in  and  breathe  again  the  air  of  heavenly  truth  when 
I  but  "  retrace  its  footsteps,  and  its  skirts  far  off  adore  "  ?  I  cannot 
s>ay  with  the  same  poet : 

"And  see  how  dark  tho  backward  stream, 
A  little  moment  past  so  smiling  " — 

for  it  is  the  past  that  gives  me  most  delight  and  most  assurance 
of  reality.  What  to  me  constitutes  the  great  charm  of  the  "  Con- 
fessions of  Rousseau"  is  their  turning  so  much  upon  this  feeling. 
He  seems  to  gather  up  the  past  moments  of  his  being  like  drops 
of  honey-dew  to  distil  a  precious  liquor  from  them ;  his  alternate 
pleasures  and  pains  are  the  bead-roll  that  he  tells  over  and  piously 
worships  ;  he  makes  a  rosary  of  the  flowers  of  hope  and  fancy  that 
strewed  his  earliest  years.  When  he  begins  the  last  of  the  "  Reveries 
of  a  Solitary  Walker,"  "  II  y  a  aujourd'hui,  jour  des  Pdques  Fleuris, 
cinquante  cms  depuis  que  fai  premier  vu  Madame  Warens"  what  a 
yeaming  of  the  soul  is  implied  in  that  short  sentence !  Was  all 
that  had  happened  to  him,  all  that  he  had  thought  and  felt  in  that 
sad  interval  of  time,  to  be  accounted  nothing?  Was  that  long, 
dim,  faded  retrospect  of  years  happy  or  miserable — a  blank  that 
was  not  to  make  his  eyes  fail  and  his  heart  faint  within  him  in  try- 
ing to  grasp  all  that  had  once  filled  it  and  that  had  since  vanished, 
because  it  was  not  a  prospect  into  futurity?  Was  he  wrong  in 
finding  more  to  interest  him  in  it  than  in  the  next  fifty  years — 


192         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

which  he  did  not  live  to  see;  or  if  he  had,  what  then?  Would 
they  have  been  worth  thinking  of,  compared  with  the  times  of  his 
youth,  of  his  first  meeting  with  Madame  Warens,  with  those  times 
which  he  has  traced  with  such  truth  and  pure  delight  "in  our 
heart's  tables  "  ?  When  "  all  the  life  of  life  was  flown,"  was  he  not 
to  live  the  first  and  best  part  of  it  over  again,  and  once  more  be 
all  that  he  then  was  ? — Ye  woods  that  crown  the  clear  lone  brow 
of  Norman  Court,  why  do  I  revisit  ye  so  oft,  and  feel  a  soothing 
consciousness  of  your  presence,  but  that  your  high  tops  waving  in 
the  wind  recall  to  me  the  hours  and  years  that  are  for  ever  fled ; 
that  ye  renew  in  ceaseless  murmurs  the  story  of  long-cherished 
hopes  and  bitter  disappointment ;  that  in  your  solitudes  and  tangled 
wilds  I  can  wander  and  lose  myself  as  I  wander  on  and  am  lost  in 
the  solitude  of  my  own  heart ;  and  that  as  your  rustling  branches 
give  the  loud  blast  to  the  waste  below — borne  on  the  thoughts  of 
other  years,  I  can  look  down  with  patient  anguish  at  the  cheerless 
desolation  which  I  feel  within !  Without  that  face  pale  as  the 
primrose  with  hyacinthine  locks,  for  ever  shunning  and  for  ever 
haunting  me,  mocking  my  waking  thoughts  as  in  a  dream  ;  without 
that  smile  which  my  heart  could  never  turn  to  scorn ;  without  those 
eyes  dark  with  their  own  lustre,  still  bent  on  mine,  and  drawing 
the  soul  into  their  liquid  mazes  like  a  sea  of  love;  without  that 
name  trembling  in  fancy's  ear ;  without  that  form  gliding  before 
me  like  Oread  or  Dryad  in  fabled  groves,  what  should  I  do  ?  how 
pass  away  the  listless  leaden-footed  hours  ?  Then  wave,  wave  on, 
ye  woods  of  Tuderley,  and  lift  your  high  tops  in  the  «ir ;  my  sighs 
and  vows  uttered  by  your  mystic  voice  breathe  into  me  my  former 
being,  and  enable  me  to  bear  the  thing  I  am ! — The  objects  that 
we  have  known  in  better  days  are  the  main  props  that  sustain  the 
weight  of  our  affections,  and  give  us  strength  to  await  our  future 
lot.  The  future  is  like  a  dead  wall  or  a  thick  mist  hiding  all  objects 
from  our  view ;  the  past  is  alive  and  stirring  with  objects,  bright 
or  solemn,  and  of  unfading  interest.  What  is  it,  in  fact,  that  we 
recur  to  oftenest  ?  What  subjects  do  we  think  or  talk  of  ?  Not 
the  ignorant  future,  but  the  well-stored  past.  Othello,  the  Moor 
of  Venice,  amused  himself  and  his  hearers  at  the  house  of  Signor 
Brabantio  by  "  running  through  the  story  of  his  life  even  from  his 
boyish  days,"  and  oft  "  beguiled  them  of  their  tears,  when  he  did 
speak  of  some  disastrous  stroke  which  his  youth  suffered."  This 
plan  of  ingratiating  himself  would  not  have  answered  if  the  past 
had  been,  like  the  contents  of  an  old  almanac,  of  no  use  but  to 
be  thrown  aside  and  forgotten.  What  a  blank,  for  instance,  does 
the  history  of  the  world  for  the  next  six  thousand  years  present  to 


THE  PAST  AND  FUTURE.  193 

the  mind,  compared  with  that  of  the  last !  All  that  strikes  the 
imagination  or  excites  any  interest  in  the  mighty  scene  is  what  has 
been  ! 

Neither  in  itself,  then,  nor  as  a  subject  of  general  contemplation 
has  the  future  any  advantage  over  the  past.  But  with  respect 
to  our  grosser  passions  and  pursuits  it  has.  As  far  as  regards  the 
appeal  to  the  understanding  or  the  imagination,  the  past  is  just  as 
good,  as  real,  of  as  much  intrinsic  and  ostensible  value  as  the  future ; 
but  there  is  another  principle  in  the  human  mind,  the  principle  of 
action  or  will;  and  of  this  the  past  has  no  hold,  the  future  en- 
grosses it  entirely  to  itself.  It  is  this  strong  lever  of  the  affections 
that  gives  so  powerful  a  bias  to  our  sentiments  on  this  subject, 
and  violently  transposes  the  natural  order  of  our  associations.  We 
regret  the  pleasures  we  have  lost,  and  eagerly  anticipate  those  which 
are  to  come :  we  dwell  with  satisfaction  on  the  evils  from  which  we 
have  escaped  (Posthcec  mcminisse  iuvabif),  and  dread  future  pain. 
The  good  that  is  past  is  in  this  sense  like  money  that  is  spent,  which 
is  of  no  further  use,  and  about  which  we  give  ourselves  little  concern. 
The  good  we  expect  is  like  a  store  yet  untouched,  and  in  the  enjoy- 
ment of  which  we  promise  ourselves  infinite  gratification.  What 
has  happened  to  us  we  think  of  no  consequence  :  what  is  to  happen 
to  us,  of  the  greatest.  Why  so  ?  Simply  because  the  one  is  still 
in  our  power,  and  the  other  not,  because  the  efforts  of  the  will  to 
bring  any  object  to  pass  or  to  prevent  it  strengthen  our  attachment 
or  aversion  to  that  object,  because  the  pains  and  attention  bestowed 
upon  anything  add  to  our  interest  in  it,  and  because  the  habitual 
and  earnest  pursuit  of  any  end  redoubles  the  ardour  of  our  expecta- 
tions, and  converts  the  speculative  and  indolent  satisfaction  we 
might  otherwise  feel  in  it  into  real  passion.  Our  regrets,  anxiety, 
and  wishes  are  thrown  away  upon  the  past ;  but  the  insisting  on  the 
importance  of  the  future  is  of  the  utmost  use  in  aiding  our  resolu- 
tions and  stimulating  our  exertions.  If  the  future  were  no  more 
amenable  to  our  wills  than  the  past ;  if  our  precautions,  our  sanguine 
schemes,  our  hopes  and  fears,  were  of  as  little  avail  in  the  one  case 
as  the  other;  if  we  could  neither  soften  our  minds  to  pleasure  nor 
steel  our  fortitude  to  the  resistance  of  pain  beforehand ;  if  all  objects 
drifted  along  by  us  like  straws  or  pieces  of  wood  in  a  river,  the  will 
being  purely  passive,  and  as  little  able  to  avert  the  future  as  to 
arrest  the  past,  we  should  in  that  case  be  equally  indifferent  to  both ; 
that  is,  we  should  consider  each  as  they  affected  the  thoughts  and 
imagination  with  certain  sentiments  of  approbation  or  regret,  but 
without  the  importunity  of  action,  the  irritation  of  the  will,  throw- 
ing the  whole  weight  of  passion  and  prejudice  into  one  scale,  and 


194        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

leaving  the  other  quite  empty.  While  the  blow  is  coming  we  pre- 
pare to  meet  it,  we  think  to  ward  off  or  break  its  force,  we  arm  our- 
selves with  patience  to  endure  what  cannot  be  avoided,  we  agitate 
ourselves  with  fifty  needless  alarms  about  it ;  but  when  the  blow  is 
struck  the  pang  is  over,  the  struggle  is  no  longer  necessary,  and  we 
cease  to  harass  or  torment  ourselves  about  it  more  than  we  can  help. 
It  is  not  that  the  one  belongs  to  the  future  and  the  other  to  time 
past ;  but  that  the  one  is  a  subject  of  action,  of  uneasy  apprehension, 
of  strong  passion,  and  that  the  other  has  passed  wholly  out  of  the 
sphere  of  action  into  the  region  of 

"  Calm  contemplation  and  majestic  pains." 

It  would  not  give  a  man  more  concern  to  know  that  he  should  be 
put  to  the  rack  a  year  hence  than  to  recollect  that  he  had  been  put 
to  it  a  year  ago,  but  that  he  hopes  to  avoid  the  one,  whereas  he  must 
sit  down  patiently  under  the  consciousness  of  the  other.  In  this 
hope  he  wears  himself  out  in  vain  struggles  with  fate,  and  puts  him- 
self to  the  rack  of  his  imagination  every  day  he  has  to  live  in  the 
meanwhile.  When  the  event  is  so  remote  or  so  independent  of  the 
will  as  to  set  aside  the  necessity  of  immediate  action,  or  to  baffle  all 
attempts  to  defeat  it,  it  gives  us  little  more  disturbance  or  emotion 
than  if  it  had  already  taken  place,  or  were  something  to  happen  in 
another  state  of  being,  or  to  an  indifferent  person.  Criminals  are 
observed  to  grow  more  anxious  as  their  trial  approaches  ;  but  after 
their  sentence  is  passed  they  become  tolerably  resigned,  and  gener- 
ally sleep  sound  the  night  before  its  execution. 

It  in  some  measure  confirms  this  theory,  that  men  attach  more 
or  less  importance  to  past  and  future  events  according  as  they  are 
more  or  less  engaged  in  action  and  the  busy  scenes  of  life.  Those 
who  have  a  fortune  to  make,  or  are  in  pursuit  of  rank  and  power, 
think  little  of  the  past,  for  it  does  not  contribute  greatly  to  their 
views  :  those  who  have  nothing  to  do  but  to  think  take  nearly  the 
same  interest  in  the  past  as  in  the  future.  The  contemplation  of 
the  one  is  as  delightful  and  real  as  that  of  the  other.  The  season 
of  hope  has  an  end  ;  but  the  remembrance  of  it  is  left.  The  past 
still  lives  in  the  memory  of  those  who  have  leisure  to  look  back  upon 
the  way  that  they  have  trod,  and  can  from  it  "  catch  glimpses  that 
may  make  them  less  forlorn."  The  turbulence  of  action  and  un- 
easiness of  desire  must  point  to  the  future :  it  is  only  in  the  quiet 
innocence  of  shepherds,  in  the  simplicity  of  pastoral  ages,  that  a 
tomb  was  found  with  this  inscription,  "  I  ALSO  WAS  AN  ARCADIAN  !  " 

Though  I  by  no  means  think  that  our  habitual  attachment  to 
life  is  in  exact  proportion  to  the  value  of  the  gift,  yet  I  am  not  one 


THE  PAST  AND  FUTURE.  195 

of  those  splenetic  persons  who  affect  to  think  it  of  no  value  at  all. 
Que  pen  de  chose  est  la  vie  humaine !  is  an  exclamation  in  the  mouths 
of  moralists  and  philosophers,  to  which  I  cannot  agree.  It  is  little, 
it  is  short,  it  is  not  worth  having,  if  we  take  the  last  hour,  and 
leave  out  all  that  has  gone  before,  which  has  been  one  way  of 
looking  at  the  subject.  Such  calculators  seem  to  say  that  life  is 
nothing  when  it  is  over,  and  that  may,  in  their  sense,  be  true.  If 
the  old  rule,  Respice  finem,  were  to  be  made  absolute,  and  no  one 
could  be  pronounced  fortunate  till  the  day  of  his  death,  there  are 
few  among  us  whose  existence  would,  upon  those  conditions,  be 
much  to  be  envied.  But  this  is  not  a  fair  view  of  the  case.  A 
man's  life  is  his  whole  life,  not  the  last  glimmering  snuff  of  the 
candle ;  and  this,  I  say,  is  considerable,  and  not  a  little  matter, 
whether  we  regard  its  pleasures  or  its  pains.  To  draw  a  peevish 
conclusion  to  the  contrary  from  our  own  superannuated  desires  or 
forgetful  indifference  is  about  as  reasonable  as  to  say  a  man  never 
was  young  because  he  has  grown  old,  or  never  lived  because  he 
is  now  dead.  The  length  or  agreeableness  of  a  journey  does  not 
depend  on  the  few  last  steps  of  it,  nor  is  the  size  of  a  building  to  be 
judged  of  from  the  last  stone  that  is  added  to  it.  It  is  neither  the 
first  nor  last  hour  of  our  existence,  but  the  space  that  parts  these 
two  —  not  our  exit  nor  our  entrance  upon  the  stage,  but  what 
we  do,  feel,  and  think  while  there — that  we  are  to  attend  to  in 
pronouncing  sentence  upon  it.  Indeed,  it  would  be  easy  to  show 
that  it  is  the  very  extent  of  human  life,  the  infinite  number  of 
things  contained  in  it,  its  contradictory  and  fluctuating  interests, 
the  transition  from  one  situation  to  another,  the  hours,  months, 
years  spent  in  one  fond  pursuit  after  another ;  that  it  is,  in  a  word, 
the  length  of  our  common  journey,  and  the  quantity  of  events 
crowded  into  it,  that,  baffling  the  grasp  of  our  actual  perception, 
make  it  slide  from  our  memory  and  dwindle  into  nothing  in  its 
own  perspective.  It  is  too  mighty  for  us,  and  we  say  it  is  nothing ! 
It  is  a  speck  in  our  fancy,  and  yet  what  canvas  would  be  big 
enough  to  hold  its  striking  groups,  its  endless  subjects  ?  It  is  light 
as  vanity,  and  yet  if  all  its  weary  moments,  if  all  its  head  and  heart 
aches  were  compressed  into  one,  what  fortitude  would  not  be  over- 
whelmed with  the  blow !  What  a  huge  heap,  a  "  huge,  dumb  heap," 
of  wishes,  thoughts,  feelings,  anxious  cares,  soothing  hopes,  loves, 
joys,  friendships,  it  is  composed  of !  How  many  ideas  and  trains  of 
sentiment,  long  and  deep  and  intense,  often  pass  through  the  mind 
in  only  one  day's  thinking  or  reading,  for  instance !  How  many 
such  days  are  there  in  a  year,  how  many  years  in  a  long  life,  still 
occupied  with  something  interesting,  still  recalling  some  old  im- 


196        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

pression,  still  recurring  to  some  difficult  question  and  making  pro- 
gress in  it,  every  step  accompanied  with  a  sense  of  power,  and 
every  moment  conscious  of  "  the  high  endeavour  or  the  glad  suc- 
cess ; "  for  the  mind  seizes  only  on  that  which  keeps  it  employed, 
and  is  wound  up  to  a  certain  pitch  of  pleasurable  excitement  or 
lively  solicitude,  by  the  necessity  of  its  own  nature.  .  .  . 

The  passions  contract  and  warp  the  natural  progress  of  life.  They 
paralyse  all  of  it  that  is  not  devoted  to  their  tyranny  and  caprice. 
This  makes  the  difference  between  the  laughing  innocence  of  child- 
hood, the  pleasantness  of  youth,  and  the  crabbedness  of  age.  A 
load  of  cares  lies  like  a  weight  of  guilt  upon  the  mind ;  so  that  a 
man  of  business  often  has  all  the  air,  the  distraction  and  restless- 
ness and  hurry  of  feeling  of  a  criminal.  A  knowledge  of  the  world 
takes  away  the  freedom  and  simplicity  of  thought  as  effectually  as 
the  contagion  of  its  example.  The  artlessness  and  candour  of  our 
early  years  are  open  to  all  impressions  alike,  because  the  mind 
is  not  clogged  and  preoccupied  with  other  objects.  Our  pleasures 
and  our  pains  come  single,  make  room  for  one  another,  and  the 
spring  of  the  mind  is  fresh  and  unbroken,  its  aspect  clear  and 
unsullied.  Hence  "  the  tear  forgot  as  soon  as  shed,  the  sunshine  of 
the  breast."  But  as  we  advance  farther  the  will  gets  greater  head. 
We  form  violent  antipathies  and  indulge  exclusive  preferences.  We 
make  up  our  minds  to  some  one  thing,  and  if  we  cannot  have  that, 
will  have  nothing.  We  are  wedded  to  opinion,  to  fancy,  to  pre- 
judice, which  destroys  the  soundness  of  our  judgments  and  the 
serenity  and  buoyancy  of  our  feelings.  The  chain  of  habit  coils 
itself  round  the  heart,  like  a  serpent,  to  gnaw  and  stifle  it.  It 
grows  rigid  and  callous ;  and  for  the  softness  and  elasticity  of  child- 
hood, full  of  proud-flesh  and  obstinate  tumours.  The  violence  and 
perversity  of  our  passions  come  in  more  and  more  to  overlay  our 
natural  sensibility  and  well-grounded  affections ;  and  we  screw  our- 
selves up  to  aim  only  at  those  things  which  are  neither  desirable 
nor  practicable.  Thus  life  passes  away  in  the  feverish  irritation  of 
pursuit  and  the  certainty  of  disappointment.  By  degrees,  nothing 
but  this  morbid  state  of  feeling  satisfies  us ;  and  all  common 
pleasures  and  cheap  amusements  are  sacrificed  to  the  demon  of 
ambition,  avarice,  or  dissipation.  The  machine  is  overwrought : 
the  parching  heat  of  the  veins  dries  up  and  withers  the  flowers  of 
Love,  Hope,  and  Joy ;  and  any  pause,  any  release  from  the  rack  of 
ecstasy  on  which  we  are  stretched,  seems  more  insupportable  than 
the  pangs  which  we  endure.  We  are  suspended  between  tormenting 
desires  and  the  horrors  of  ennui.  The  impulse  of  the  will,  like  the 
wheels  of  a  carriage  going  downhill,  becomes  too  strong  for  the 


THE  PAST  AND  FUTURE.  197 

driver,  Reason,  and  cannot  be  stopped  nor  kept  within  bounds. 
Some  idea,  some  fancy,  takes  possession  of  the  brain ;  and  however 
ridiculous,  however  distressing,  however  ruinous,  haunts  us  by  a 
sort  of  fascination  through  life. 

Not  only  is  this  principle  of  excessive  irritability  to  be  seen  at 
work  in  our  more  turbulent  passions  and  pursuits,  but  even  in  the 
formal  study  of  arts  and  sciences  the  same  thing  takes  place,  and 
undermines  the  repose  and  happiness  of  life.  The  eagerness  of 
pursuit  overcomes  the  satisfaction  to  result  from  the  accomplish- 
ment. The  mind  is  overstrained  to  attain  its  purpose ;  and  when 
it  is  attained,  the  ease  and  alacrity  necessary  to  enjoy  it  are 
gone.  The  irritation  of  action  does  not  cease  and  go  down  with 
the  occasion  for  it ;  but  we  are  first  uneasy  to  get  to  the  end  of  our 
work,  and  then  uneasy  for  want  of  something  to  do.  The  ferment 
of  the  brain  does  not  of  itself  subside  into  pleasure  and  soft  repose. 
Hence  the  disposition  to  strong  stimuli  observable  in  persons  of 
much  intellectual  exertion  to  allay  and  carry  off  the  overexcite- 
ment.  The  improvisatori  poets  (it  is  recorded  by  Spence  in  his 
"  Anecdotes  of  Pope ")  cannot  sleep  after  an  evening's  continued 
display  of  their  singular  and  difficult  art.  The  rhymes  keep  running 
in  their  head  in  spite  of  themselves,  and  will  not  let  them  rest. 
Mechanics  and  labouring  people  never  know  what  to  do  with  them- 
selves on  a  Sunday,  though  they  return  to  their  work  with  greater 
spirit  for  the  relief,  and  look  forward  to  it  with  pleasure  all  the 
week.  Sir  Joshua  Reynolds  was  never  comfortable  out  of  his  paint- 
ing-room, and  died  of  chagrin  and  regret  because  he  could  not  paint 
on  to  the  last  moment  of  his  life.  He  used  to  say  that  he  could 
go  on  retouching  a  picture  for  ever,  as  long  as  it  stood  on  his  easel ; 
but  as  soon  as  it  was  once  fairly  out  of  the  house  he  never  wished 
to  see  it  again.  An  ingenious  artist  of  our  own  time  has  been 
heard  to  declare,  that  if  ever  the  devil  got  him  into  his  clutches  he 
would  set  him  to  copy  his  own  pictures.  Thus  the  secure,  self-com- 
placent retrospect  to  what  is  done  is  nothing,  while  the  anxious, 
uneasy  looking  forward  to  what  is  to  come  is  everything.  We  are 
afraid  to  dwell  upon  the  past,  lest  it  should  retard  our  future  pro- 
gress ;  the  indulgence  of  ease  is  fatal  to  excellence ;  and  to  succeed 
in  life  we  lose  the  ends  of  being. 


198         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

CAPACITY  AND  GENIUS. 

[From  the  article  "  On  Genius  and  Common-Sense. "] 

CAPACITY  is  not  the  same  thing  as  genius.  Capacity  may  be  de- 
scribed to  relate  to  the  quantity  of  knowledge,  however  acquired, — 
genius  to  its  quality  and  the  mode  of  acquiring  it.  Capacity  is  power 
over  given  ideas  or  combinations  of  ideas ;  genius  is  the  power  over 
those  which  are  not  given,  and  for  which  no  obvious  or  precise  rule 
can  be  laid  down.  Or  capacity  is  power  of  any  sort ;  genius  is  power 
of  a  different  sort  from  what  has  yet  been  shown.  A  retentive 
memory,  a  clear  understanding,  is  capacity,  but  it  is  not  genius. 
The  Admirable  Crichton  was  a  person  of  prodigious  capacity,  but 
there  is  no  proof  (that  I  know)  that  he  had  an  atom  of  genius.  His 
verses  that  remain  are  dull  and  sterile.  He  could  learn  all  that  was 
known  of  any  subject :  he  could  do  anything  if  others  could  show 
him  the  way  to  do  it.  This  was  very  wonderful ;  but  that  is  all  you 
can  say  of  it.  It  requires  a  good  capacity  to  play  well  at  chess ; 
but,  after  all,  it  is  a  game  of  skill,  and  not  of  genius.  Know  what 
you  will  of  it,  the  understanding  still  moves  in  certain  tracks  in 
which  others  have  trod  it  before,  quicker  or  slower,  with  more  or 
less  comprehension  and  presence  of  mind.  The  greatest  skill  strikes 
out  nothing  for  itself,  from  its  own  peculiar  resources ;  the  nature 
of  the  game  is  a  thing  determinate  and  fixed :  there  is  no  royal  or 
poetical  road  to  checkmate  your  adversary.  There  is  no  place  for 
genius  but  in  the  indefinite  and  unknown.  The  discovery  of  the 
binomial  theorem  was  an  effort  of  genius ;  but  there  was  none  shown 
in  Jedediah  Buxton's  being  able  to  multiply  nine  figures  by  nine 
in  his  head.  If  he  could  have  multiplied  ninety  figures  by  ninety 
instead  of  nine,  it  would  have  been  equally  useless  toil  and  trouble. 
He  is  a  man  of  capacity  who  possesses  considerable  intellectual 
riches :  he  is  a  man  of  genius  who  finds  out  a  vein  of  new  ore. 
Originality  is  the  seeing  nature  differently  from  others,  and  yet  as 
it  is  in  itself.  It  is  not  singularity  or  affectation,  but  the  discovery 
of  new  and  valuable  truth.  All  the  world  do  not  see  the  whole 
meaning  of  any  object  they  have  been  looking  at.  Habit  blinds 
them  to  some  things :  short-sightedness  to  others.  Every  mind  is 
not  a  gauge  and  measure  of  truth.  Nature  has  her  surface  and  her 
dark  recesses.  She  is  deep,  obscure,  and  infinite.  It  is  only  minds 
on  whom  she  makes  her  fullest  impressions  that  can  penetrate  her 
shrine  or  unveil  her  Holy  of  Holies.  It  is  only  those  whom  she  has 
filled  with  her  spirit  that  have  the  boldness  or  the  power  to  reveal 


CAPACITY  AND  GENIUS— ORIGINALITY.  199 

her  mysteries  to  others.  But  nature  has  a  thousand  aspects,  and 
one  man  can  only  draw  out  one  of  them.  Whoever  does  this  is  a 
man  of  genius.  One  displays  her  force,  another  her  refinement ;  one 
her  power  of  harmony,  another  her  suddenness  of  contrast ;  one  her 
beauty  of  form,  another  her  splendour  of  colour.  Each  does  that 
for  which  he  is  best  fitted  by  his  particular  genius ;  that  is  to  say, 
by  some  quality  of  mind  into  which  the  quality  of  the  object  sinks 
deepest  where  it  finds  the  most  cordial  welcome,  is  perceived  to  its 
utmost  extent,  and  where  again  it  forces  its  way  out  from  the 
fulness  with  which  it  has  taken  possession  of  the  mind  of  the 
student.  The  imagination  gives  out  what  it  has  first  absorbed  by 
congeniality  of  temperament,  what  it  has  attracted  and  moulded 
into  itself  by  elective  affinity,  as  the  loadstone  draws  and  impreg- 
nates iron.  A  little  originality  is  more  esteemed  and  sought  for 
than  the  greatest  acquired  talent,  because  it  throws  a  new  light 
upon  things  and  is  peculiar  to  the  individual.  The  other  is  com- 
mon, and  may  be  had  for  the  asking,  to  any  amount. 

The  value  of  any  work  is  to  be  judged  of  by  the  quantity  of  origi- 
nality contained  in  it.  A  very  little  of  this  will  go  a  great  way. 
If  Goldsmith  had  never  written  anything  but  the  two  or  three  first 
chapters  of  the  "  Vicar  of  Wakefield  "  or  the  character  of  a  Village 
Schoolmaster,  they  would  have  stamped  him  a  man  of  genius. 
The  editors  of  Encyclopaedias  are  not  usually  reckoned  the  first 
literary  characters  of  the  age.  The  works  of  which  they  have  the 
management  contain  a  great  deal  of  knowledge,  like  chests  or  ware- 
houses, but  the  goods  are  not  their  own.  We  should  as  soon  think 
of  admiring  the  shelves  of  a  library ;  but  the  shelves  of  a  library  are 
useful  and  respectable.  I  was  once  applied  to,  in  a  delicate  emer- 
gency, to  write  an  article  on  a  difficult  subject  for  an  Encyclopaedia, 
and  was  advised  to  take  time  and  give  it  a  systematic  and  scientific 
form,  to  avail  myself  of  all  the  knowledge  that  was  to  be  obtained 
on  the  subject,  and  arrange  it  with  clearness  and  method.  I  made 
answer  that,  as  to  the  first,  I  had  taken  time  to  do  all  that  I  ever 
pretended  to  do,  as  I  had  thought  incessantly  on  different  matters 
for  twenty  years  of  my  life  ;  that  I  had  no  particular  knowledge  of 
the  subject  in  question,  and  no  head  for  arrangement ;  and  that  the 
utmost  I  could  do  in  such  a  case  would  be,  when  a  systematic  and 
scientific  article  was  prepared,  to  write  marginal  notes  upon  it,  to 
insert  a  remark  or  illustration  of  my  own  (not  to  be  found  in  former 
Encylopsedias)  or  to  suggest  a  better  definition  than  had  been  offered 
in  the  text.  There  are  two  sorts  of  writing.  The  first  is  compilation, 
and  consists  in  collecting  and  stating  all  that  is  already  known  of 
any  question  in  the  best  possible  manner,  for  the  benefit  of  the  un- 


200         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

informed  reader.  An  author  of  this  class  is  a  very  learned  amanuensis 
of  other  people's  thoughts.  The  second  sort  proceeds  on  an  entirely 
different  principle.  Instead  of  bringing  down  the  account  of  know- 
ledge to  the  point  at  which  it  has  already  arrived,  it  professes  to 
start  from  that  point  on  the  strength  of  the  writer's  individual  re- 
flections ;  and  supposing  the  reader  in  possession  of  what  is  already 
known,  supplies  deficiencies,  fills  up  certain  blanks,  and  quits  the 
beaten  road  in  search  of  new  tracts  of  observation  or  sources  of 
feeling.  It  is  in  vain  to  object  to  this  last  style  that  it  is  disjointed, 
disproportioned,  and  irregular.  It  is  merely  a  set  of  additions  and 
corrections  to  other  men's  works,  or  to  the  common  stock  of  human 
knowledge,  printed  separately.  You  might  as  well  expect  a  con- 
tinued chain  of  reasoning  in  the  notes  to  a  book.  It  skips  all  the 
trite,  intermediate,  level  commonplaces  of  the  subject,  and  only 
stops  at  the  difficult  passages  of  the  human  mind,  or  touches  on 
some  striking  point  that  has  been  overlooked  in  previous  editions. 
A  view  of  a  subject,  to  be  connected  and  regular,  cannot  be  all  new. 
A  writer  will  always  be  liable  to  be  charged  either  with  paradox  or 
commonplace,  either  with  dulness  or  affectation.  But  we  have  no 
right  to  demand  from  any  one  more  than  he  pretends  to.  There  is 
indeed  a  medium  in  all  things,  but  to  unite  opposite  excellences  is 
a  task  ordinarily  too  hard  for  mortality.  He  who  succeeds  in  what 
he  aims  at,  or  who  takes  the  lead  in  any  one  mode  or  path  of  excel- 
lence, may  think  himself  very  well  off.  It  would  not  be  fair  to  com- 
plain of  the  style  of  an  Encyclopaedia  as  dull,  as  wanting  volatile 
salt,  nor  of  the  style  of  an  Essay  because  it  is  too  light  and  spark- 
ling, because  it  is  not  a  caput  mortuum.  ...  I  grant  it  best  to  unite 
solidity  with  show,  general  information  with  particular  ingenuity. 
This  is  the  pattern  of  a  perfect  style  ;  but  I  myself  do  not  pretend 
to  be  a  perfect  writer.  In  fine,  we  do  not  banish  light  French  wines 
from  our  tables,  or  refuse  to  taste  sparkling  Champagne  when  we 
can  get  it  because  it  has  not  the  body  of  old  port.  Besides,  I  do 
not  know  that  dulness  is  strength,  or  that  an  observation  is  slight 
because  it  is  striking.  Mediocrity,  insipidity,  want  of  character,  is 
the  great  fault. 

It  is  not,  then,  acuteness  of  organs  or  extent  of  capacity  that  con- 
stitutes rare  genius  or  produces  the  most  exquisite  models  of  art, 
but  an  intense  sympathy  with  some  one  beauty  or  distinguishing 
characteristic  in  nature.  Irritability  alone,  or  the  interest  taken 
in  certain  things,  may  supply  the  place  of  genius  in  weak  and 
otherwise  ordinary  minds.  As  there  are  certain  instruments  fitted 
to  perform  certain  kinds  of  labour,  there  are  certain  minds  so  framed 
as  to  produce  certain  chef-d'ceuvres  in  art  and  literature,  which  is 


PEOPLE  WITH  ONE  IDEA.  201 

surely  the  best  use  they  can  be  put  to.  If  a  man  had  all  sorts  of 
instruments  in  his  shop  and  wanted  one,  he  would  rather  have  that 
one  than  be  supplied  with  a  double  set  of  all  the  others.  If  he  had 
them  twice  over,  he  could  only  do  what  he  can  do  as  it  is,  whereas 
without  that  one  he  perhaps  cannot  finish  any  one  work  he  has  in 
hand.  So  if  a  man  can  do  one  thing  better  than  anybody  else,  the 
value  of  this  one  thing  is  what  he  must  stand  or  fall  by,  and  his 
being  able  to  do  a  hundred  other  things  merely  as  well  as  anybody 
else  would  not  alter  the  sentence  or  add  to  his  respectability ;  on 
the  contrary,  his  being  able  to  do  so  many  other  things  well  would 
probably  interfere  with  and  encumber  him  in  the  execution  of  the 
only  thing  that  others  cannot  do  as  well  as  he,  and  so  far  be  a 
drawback  and  a  disadvantage.  More  people,  in  fact,  fail  from 
a  multiplicity  of  talents  and  pretensions  than  from  an  absolute 
poverty  of  resources.  .  .  . 

ON  PEOPLE  WITH  ONE  IDEA. 

THERE  are  people  who  have  but  one  idea ;  at  least,  if  they  have  more 
they  keep  it  a  secret,  for  they  never  talk  but  of  one  subject.  There 
is  Major  Cartwright :  he  has  but  one  idea  or  subject  of  discourse, 
Parliamentary  Reform.  Now  this  a  very  good  thing,  a  very  good 
idea,  and  a  very  good  subject  to  talk  about ;  but  why  should  it  be  the 
only  one  ?  To  hear  the  worthy  and  gallant  Major  resume  his  favourite 
topic  is  like  law-business,  or  a  person  who  has  a  suit  in  Chancery 
going  on.  Nothing  can  be  attended  to,  nothing  can  be  talked 
of,  but  that.  Now  it  is  getting  on,  now  again  it  is  standing  still ; 
at  one  time  the  Master  has  promised  to  pass  judgment  by  a  certain 
day,  at  another  he  has  put  it  off  again  and  called  for  more  papers, 
and  both  are  equally  reasons  for  speaking  of  it.  Like  the  piece  of 
packthread  in  the  barrister's  hands,  he  turns  and  twists  it  all  ways, 
and  cannot  proceed  a  step  without  it.  Some  schoolboys  cannot 
read  but  in  their  own  book ;  and  the  man  of  one  idea  cannot  con- 
verse out  of  his  own  subject.  Conversation  it  is  not ;  but  a  sort 
of  recital  of  the  preamble  of  a  bill,  or  a  collection  of  grave  argu- 
ments for  a  man's  being  of  opinion  with  himself.  It  would  be  well 
if  there  was  anything  of  character,  of  eccentricity  in  all  this ;  but 
that  is  not  the  case.  It  is  a  political  homily  personified,  a  walking 
commonplace  we  have  to  encounter  and  listen  to.  It  is  just  as 
if  a  man  was  to  insist  on  your  hearing  him  go  through  the  fifth 
chapter  of  the  Book  of  Judges  every  time  you  meet,  or  like  the 
story  of  the  Cosmogony  in  the  "  Vicar  of  Wakefield."  It  is  a  tune 
played  on  a  barrel-organ.  It  is  a  common  vehicle  of  discourse  into 


202         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

which  they  get  and  are  set  down  when  they  please,  without  any 
pains  or  trouble  to  themselves.  Neither  is  it  professional  pedantry 
or  trading  quackery :  it  has  no  excuse.  The  man  has  no  more  to 
do  with  the  question  which  he  saddles  on  all  his  hearers  than  you 
have.  This  is  what  makes  the  matter  hopeless.  If  a  farmer  talks 
to  you  about  his  pigs  or  his  poultry,  or  a  physician  about  his 
patients,  or  a  lawyer  about  his  briefs,  or  a  merchant  about  stock, 
or  an  author  about  himself,  you  know  how  to  account  for  this; 
it  is  a  common  infirmity ;  you  have  a  laugh  at  his  expense,  and 
there  is  no  more  to  be  said.  But  here  is  a  man  who  goes  out  of 
his  way  to  be  absurd,  and  is  troublesome  by  a  romantic  effort  of 
generosity.  You  cannot  say  to  him,  "  All  this  may  be  interesting 
to  you,  but  I  have  no  concern  in  it : "  you  cannot  put  him  off  in 
that  way.  He  retorts  the  Latin  adage  upon  you,  Nihil  humani  a 
me  alienum  puto.  He  has  got  possession  of  a  subject  which  is  of 
universal  and  paramount  interest  (not  "a  fee-grief,  due  to  some 
single  breast "),  and  on  that  plea  may  hold  you  by  the  button  as 
long  as  he  chooses.  His  delight  is  to  harangue  on  what  nowise 
regards  himself :  how,  then,  can  you  refuse  to  listen  to  what  as  little 
amuses  you?  Time  and  tide  wait  for  no  man.  The  business  of 
the  State  admits  of  no  delay.  The  question  of  Universal  Suffrage 
and  Annual  Parliaments  stands  first  on  the  order  of  the  day — takes 
precedence  in  its  own  right  of  every  other  question.  Any  other 
topic,  grave  or  gay,  is  looked  upon  in  the  light  of  impertinence,  and 
sent  to  Coventry.  Business  is  an  interruption  ;  pleasure  a  digression 
from  it.  It  is  the  question  before  every  company  where  the  Major 
comes,  which  immediately  resolves  itself  into  a  committee  of  the 
whole  world  upon  it,  is  carried  on  by  means  of  a  perpetual  virtual 
adjournment,  and  it  is  presumed  that  no  other  is  entertained  while 
this  is  pending — a  determination  which  gives  its  persevering  advo- 
cate a  fair  prospect  of  expatiating  on  it  to  his  dying  day.  As  Cicero 
says  of  study,  it  follows  him  into  the  country,  it  stays  with  him  at 
home :  it  sits  with  him  at  breakfast,  and  goes  out  with  him  to 
dinner.  It  is  like  a  part  of  his  dress,  of  the  costume  of  his  person, 
without  which  he  would  be  at  a  loss  what  to  do.  If  he  meets  you 
in  the  street,  he  accosts  you  with  it  as  a  form  of  salutation  :  if  you 
see  him  at  his  own  house,  it  is  supposed  you  come  upon  that.  If 
you  happen  to  remark,  "  It  is  a  fine  day,  or  the  town  is  full,"  it  is 
considered  as  a  temporary  compromise  of  the  question;  you  are 
suspected  of  not  going  the  whole  length  of  the  principle.  As 
Sancho,  when  reprimanded  for  mentioning  his  homely  favourite  in 
the  Duke's  kitchen,  defended  himself  by  saying,  "  There  I  thought 
of  Dapple,  and  there  I  spoke  of  him,"  so  the  true  stickler  for 


PEOPLE  WITH  ONE  IDEA.  203 

Reform  neglects  no  opportunity  of  introducing  the  subject  wherever 
he  is.  Place  its  veteran  champion  under  the  frozen  north,  and  he 
will  celebrate  sweet  smiling  Reform :  place  him  under  the  midday 
Afric  suns,  and  he  will  talk  of  nothing  but  Reform — Reform  so 
sweetly  smiling  and  so  sweetly  promising  for  the  last  forty  years — 

"  Dulce  ridentem  Lalagen, 
Dulce  loquentem  I " 

A  topic  of  this  sort  of  which  the  person  himself  may  be  considered 
as  almost  sole  proprietor  and  patentee  is  an  estate  for  life,  free  from 
all  encumbrance  of  wit,  thought,  or  study;  you  live  upon  it  as  a 
settled  income ;  and  others  might  as  well  think  to  eject  you  out  of 
a  capital  freehold  house  and  estate  as  think  to  drive  you  out  of  it 
into  the  wide  world  of  common-sense  and  argument.  Every  man's 
house  is  his  castle,  and  every  man's  commonplace  is  his  stronghold, 
from  which  he  looks  out  and  smiles  at  the  dust  and  heat  of  con- 
troversy, raised  by  a  number  of  frivolous  and  vexatious  questions — 
"  Rings  the  world  with  the  vain  stir  ! "  A  cure  for  this  and  every 
other  evil  would  be  a  Parliamentary  Reform ;  and  so  we  return  in 
a  perpetual  circle  to  the  point  from  which  we  set  out.  Is  not  this 
a  species  of  sober  madness  more  provoking  than  the  real  ?  Has  not 
the  theoretical  enthusiast  his  mind  as  much  warped,  as  much  en- 
slaved by  one  idea,  as  the  acknowledged  lunatic,  only  that  the  former 
has  no  lucid  intervals  ?  If  you  see  a  visionary  of  this  class  going 
along  the  street,  you  can  tell  as  well  what  he  is  thinking  of  and  will 
say  next  as  the  man  that  fancies  himself  a  teapot  or  the  Czar  of 
Muscovy.  The  one  is  as  inaccessible  to  reason  as  the  other  :  if  the 
one  raves,  the  other  dotes  ! 

There  are  some  who  fancy  the  Corn  Bill  the  root  of  all  evil,  and 
others  who  trace  all  the  miseries  of  life  to  the  practice  of  muffling 
up  children  in  night-clothes  when  they  sleep  or  travel.  They  will 
declaim  by  the  hour  together  on  the  first,  and  argue  themselves 
black  in  the  face  on  the  last.  It  is  in  vain  that  you  give  up  the 
point.  They  persist  in  the  debate,  and  begin  again — "  But  don't 
you  see — ?"  These  sort  of  partial  obliquities,  as  they  are  more 
entertaining  and  original,  are  also  by  their  nature  intermittent. 
They  hold  a  man  but  for  a  season.  He  may  have  one  a  year  or 
every  two  years ;  and  though,  while  he  is  in  the  heat  of  any  new 
discovery,  he  will  let  you  hear  of  nothing  else,  he  varies  from  him- 
self, and  is  amusing  undesignedly.  He  is  not  like  the  chimes  at 
midnight. 

People  of  the  character  here  spoken  of,  that  is,  who  tease  you  to 
death  with  some  one  idea,  generally  differ  in  their  favourite  notion 


204         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

from  the  rest  of  the  world  ;  and,  indeed,  it  is  the  love  of  distinction 
which  is  mostly  at  the  bottom  of  this  peculiarity.  Thus  one  person 
is  remarkable  for  living  on  a  vegetable  diet,  and  never  fails  to  en- 
tertain you  all  dinner-time  with  an  invective  against  animal  food. 
One  of  this  self-denying  class,  who  adds  to  the  primitive  simplicity 
of  this  sort  of  food  the.  recommendation  of  having  it  in  a  raw  state, 
lamenting  the  death  of  a  patient  whom  he  had  augured  to  be  in  a 
good  way  as  a  convert  to  his  system,  at  last  accounted  for  his  dis- 
appointment in  a  whisper — "But  she  ate  meat  privately,  depend 
upon  it."  It  is  not  pleasant,  though  it  is  what  one  submits  to 
willingly  from  some  people,  to  be  asked,  every  time  you  meet, 
whether  you  have  qiu'te  left  off  drinking  wine,  and  to  be  compli- 
mented or  condoled  with  on  your  looks  according  as  you  answer  in 
the  negative  or  affirmative.  Abernethy  thinks  his  pill  an  infallible 
cure  for  all  disorders.  A  person  once  complaining  to  his  physician 
that  he  thought  his  mode  of  treatment  had  not  answered,  he 
assured  him  it  was  the  best  in  the  world, — "  and  as  a  proof  of  it," 
says  he,  "  I  have  had  one  gentleman,  a  patient  with  your  disorder, 
under  the  same  regimen  for  the  last  sixteen  years  ! " — I  have  known 
persons  whose  minds  were  entirely  taken  up  at  all  times  and  on  all 
occasions  with  such  questions  as  the  Abolition  of  the  Slave-trade, 
the  Restoration  of  the  Jews,  or  the  progress  of  Unitarianism.  I 
myself  at  one  period  took  a  pretty  strong  turn  to  inveighing  against 
the  Doctrine  of  Divine  Right,  and  am  not  yet  cured  of  my  pre- 
judice on  that  subject.  How  many  projectors  have  gone  mad  in 
good  earnest  from  incessantly  harping  on  one  idea,  the  discovery  of 
the  philosopher's  stone,  the  finding  out  the  longitude,  or  paying  off 
the  national  debt !  The  disorder  at  length  comes  to  a  fatal  crisis  ; 
but  long  before  this,  and  while  they  were  walking  about  and  talking 
as  usual,  the  derangement  of  the  fancy,  the  loss  of  all  voluntary 
power  to  control  or  alienate  their  ideas  from  the  single  subject  that 
occupied  them,  was  gradually  taking  place,  and  overturning  the 
fabric  of  the  understanding  by  wrenching  it  all  on  one  side.  Some 
persons  have  got  a  definition  of  the  verb,  others  a  system  of  short- 
hand, others  a  cure  for  typhus  fever,  others  a  method  for  preventing 
the  counterfeiting  of  bank-notes,  which  they  think  the  best  possible, 
and  indeed  the  only  one.  Others  insist  there  have  been  only  three 
great  men  in  the  world,  leaving  you  to  add  a  fourth.  A  man  who 
has  been  in  Germany  will  sometimes  talk  of  no  thing  but  what 
is  German :  a  Scotchman  always  leads  the  discourse  to  his  own 
country.  Some  descant  on  the  Kantean  philosophy.  There  is  a 
conceited  fellow  about  town  who  talks  always  and  everywhere  on 
this  subject.  He  wears  the  Categories  round  his  neck  like  a  pearl- 


PEOPLE  WITH  ONE  IDEA.  205 

chain :  he  plays  off  the  names  of  the  primary  and  transcendental 
qualities  like  rings  on  his  fingers.  He  talks  of  the  Kantean  system 
while  he  dances  ;  he  talks  of  it  while  he  dines,  he  talks  of  it  to  his 
children,  to  his  apprentices,  to  his  customers.  He  called  on  me  to 
convince  me  of  it,  and  said  I  was  only  prevented  from  becoming  a 
complete  convert  by  one  or  two  prejudices.  He  knows  no  more 
about  it  than  a  pikestaff.  Why,  then,  does  he  make  so  much 
ridiculous  fuss  about  it  ?  It  is  not  that  he  has  got  this  one  idea  in 
his  head,  but  that  he  has  got  no  other.  A  dunce  may  talk  on  the 
subject  of  the  Kantean  philosophy  with  great  impunity :  if  he 
opened  his  lips  on  any  other,  he  might  be  found  out.  A  French 
lady  who  had  married  an  Englishman  who  said  little,  excused  him 
by  saying,  "  He  is  always  thinking  of  Locke  and  Newton."  This  is 
one  way  of  passing  muster  by  following  in  the  suite  of  great  names ! 
— A  friend  of  mine,  whom  I  met  one  day  in  the  street,  accosted  me 
with  more  than  usual  vivacity,  and  said,  "  Well,  we're  selling,  we're 
selling  ! "  I  thought  he  meant  a  house.  "  No,"  he  said ;  "  haven't 
you  seen  the  advertisement  in  the  newspapers  ?  I  mean  five-and- 
twenty  copies  of  the  Essay."  This  work,  a  comely,  capacious  quarto 
on  the  most  abstruse  metaphysics,  had  occupied  his  sole  thoughts 
for  several  years,  and  he  concluded  that  I  must  be  thinking  of  what 
he  was.  .  .  . 

Mr.  Owen  is  a  man  remarkable  for  one  idea.  It  is  that  of  himself 
and  the  Lanark  cotton-mills.  He  carries  this  idea  backwards  and 
forwards  with  him  from  Glasgow  to  London,  without  allowing  any- 
thing for  attrition,  and  expects  to  find  it  in  the  same  state  of  purity 
and  perfection  in  the  latter  place  as  at  the  former.  He  acquires  a 
wonderful  velocity  and  impenetrability  in  his  undaunted  transit. 
Resistance  to  him  is  vain  while  the  whirling  motion  of  the  mail- 
coach  remains  in  his  head. 

"  Nor  Alps  nor  Apennines  can  keep  him  out, 
Nor  fortified  redoubt. " 

He  even  got  possession,  in  the  suddenness  of  his  onset,  of  the 
steam-engine  of  the  Times  newspaper,  and  struck  off  ten  thousand 
woodcuts  of  the  "  Projected  Villages,"  which  afforded  an  ocular 
demonstration  to  all  who  saw  them  of  the  practicability  of  Mr.  Owen's 
whole  scheme.  He  comes  into  a  room  with  one  of  these  documents 
in  his  hand,  with  the  air  of  a  schoolmaster  and  a  quack  doctor 
mixed,  asks  very  kindly  how  you  do,  and  on  hearing  you  are  still  in 
an  indifferent  state  of  health  owing  to  bad  digestion,  instantly  turns 
round  and  observes,  that  "  all  that  will  be  remedied  in  his  plan ; 
that,  indeed,  he  thinks  too  much  attention  has  been  paid  to  the  mind, 


2c6         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

and  not  enough  to  the  body ;  that  in  his  system,  which  he  has  now 
perfected,  and  which  will  shortly  be  generally  adopted,  he  has  pro- 
vided effectually  for  both ;  that  he  has  been  long  of  opinion  that 
the  mind  depends  altogether  on  the  physical  organisation,  and 
where  the  latter  is  neglected  or  disordered,  the  former  must  languish 
and  want  its  due  vigour ;  that  exercise  is  therefore  a  part  of  his 
system,  with  full  liberty  to  develop  every  faculty  of  mind  and  body; 
that  two  objections  had  been  made  to  his '  New  View  of  Society,' 
viz.,  its  want  of  relaxation  from  labour  and  its  want  of  variety ;  but 
the  first  of  these,  the  too  great  restraint,  he  trusted  he  had  already 
answered,  for  where  the  powers  of  mind  and  body  were  freely  exer- 
cised and  brought  out,  surely  liberty  must  be  allowed  to  exist  in 
the  highest  degree;  and  as  to  the  second,  the  monotony  which 
would  be  produced  by  a  regular  and  general  plan  of  co-operation,  he 
conceived  he  had  proved  in  his  '  New  View '  and  '  Addresses  to  the 
Higher  Classes ; '  that  the  co-operation  he  had  recommended  was 
necessarily  conducive  to  the  most  extensive  improvement  of  the 
ideas  and  faculties,  and  where  this  was  the  case,  there  must  be  the 
greatest  possible  variety  instead  of  a  want  of  it."  And  having  said 
this,  this  expert  and  sweeping  orator  takes  up  his  hat  and  walks 
downstairs  after  reading  his  lecture  of  truisms  like  a  playbill  or  an 
apothecary's  advertisement ;  and  should  you  stop  him  at  the  door 
to  say,  by  way  of  putting  in  a  word  in  common,  that  Mr.  Southey 
seems  somewhat  favourable  to  his  plan  in  his  late  Letter  to  Mr. 
William  Smith,  he  looks  at  you  with  a  smile  of  pity  at  the  futility 
of  all  opposition  and  the  idleness  of  all  encouragement.  People 
who  thus  swell  out  some  vapid  scheme  of  their  own  into  undue 
importance  seem  to  me  to  labour  under  water  in  the  head — to 
exhibit  a  huge  hydrocephalus !  They  may  be  very  worthy  people 
for  all  that,  but  they  are  bad  companions  and  very  indifferent 
reasoners.  .  .  . 

I  hate  to  be  surfeited  with  anything,  however  sweet.  I  do  not 
want  to  be  always  tied  to  the  same  question,  as  if  there  were  no 
other  in  the  world.  I  like  a  mind  more  Catholic. 

"  I  love  to  talk  with  mariners 
That  come  from  a  far  countree." 

I  am  not  for  "  a  collusion  "  but  "  an  exchange  "  of  ideas.  It  is 
well  to  hear  what  other  people  have  to  say  on  a  number  of  subjects. 
I  do  not  wish  to  be  always  respiring  the  same  confined  atmosphere, 
but  to  vary  the  scene,  and  get  a  little  relief  and  fresh  air  out  of 
doors.  Do  all  we  can  to  shake  it  off,  there  is  always  enough 
pedantry,  egotism,  and  self-conceit  left  lurking  behind;  we  need 


PEOPLE  WITH  ONE  IDEA.  207 

not  seal  ourselves  up  hermetically  in  these  precious  qualities;  so 
as  to  think  of  nothing  but  our  own  wonderful  discoveries,  and  hear 
nothing  but  the  sound  of  our  own  voice.  Scholars,  like  princes, 
may  learn  something  by  being  incognito.  Yet  we  see  those  who 
cannot  go  into  a  bookseller's  shop,  or  bear  to  be  five  minutes  hi  a 
stage-coach,  without  letting  you  know  who  they  are.  They  carry 
their  reputation  about  with  them  as  the  snail  does  its  shell,  and  sit 
under  its  canopy,  like  the  lady  in  the  lobster.  I  cannot  understand 
this  at  all.  What  is  the  use  of  a  man's  always  revolving  round  his 
own  little  circle  ?  He  must,  one  should  think,  be  tired  of  it  him- 
self, as  well  as  tire  other  people.  A  well-known  writer  says  with 
much  boldness,  both  in  the  thought  and  expression,  that  "  a  Lord 
is  imprisoned  in  the  Bastille  of  a  name,  and  cannot  enlarge  himself 
into  man ; "  and  I  have  known  men  of  genius  in  the  same  predica- 
ment. Why  must  a  man  be  for  ever  mouthing  out  his  own  poetry, 
comparing  himself  with  Milton,  passage  by  passage,  and  weighing 
every  line  in  a  balance  of  posthumous  fame  which  he  holds  in  his 
own  hands  ?  It  argues  a  want  of  imagination  as  well  as  common- 
sense.  Has  he  no  ideas  but  what  he  has  put  into  verse,  or  none 
in  common  with  his  hearers?  Why  should  he  think  it  the  only 
scholar-like  thing,  the  only  "  virtue  extant,"  to  see  the  merit  of  his 
writings,  and  that  "  men  are  brutes  without  them  "  ?  Why  should 
he  bear  a  grudge  to  all  art,  to  all  beauty,  to  all  wisdom  that  does 
not  spring  from  his  own  brain  ?  Or  why  should  he  fondly  imagine 
that  there  is  but  one  fine  thing  in  the  world,  namely,  poetry,  and 
that  he  is  the  only  poet  in  it  ?  It  will  never  do.  Poetry  is  a  very 
fine  thing ;  but  there  are  other  things  besides  it.  Everything  must 
have  its  turn.  Does  a  wise  man  think  to  enlarge  his  comprehension 
by  turning  his  eyes  only  on  himself,  or  hope  to  conciliate  the  ad- 
miration of  others  by  scouting,  proscribing,  and  loathing  all  that 
they  delight  in  ?  He  must  either  have  a  disproportionate  idea  of 
himself,  or  be  ignorant  of  the  world  in  which  he  lives.  It  is  quite 
enough  to  have  one  class  of  people  born  to  think  the  universe  made 
for  them ! — It  seems  also  to  argue  a  want  of  repose,  of  confidence, 
and  firm  faith  in  a  man's  real  pretensions  to  be  always  dragging 
them  forward  into  the  foreground,  as  if  the  proverb  held  here, 
Out  of  sight  out  of  mind.  Does  he,  for  instance,  conceive  that  no 
one  would  ever  think  of  his  poetry  unless  he  forced  it  upon  them 
by  repeating  it  himself  ?  Does  he  believe  all  competition,  all  allow- 
ance of  another's  merit,  fatal  to  him  ?  Must  he,  like  Moody  in  the 
"  Country  Girl,"  lock  up  the  faculties  of  his  admirers  in  ignorance  of 
all  other  fine  things,  painting,  music,  the  antique,  lest  they  should 
play  truant  to  him  ?  Methinks  such  a  proceeding  implies  no  good 

8 


208        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

opinion  of  his  own  genius  or  their  taste : — it  is  deficient  in  dignity 
and  in  decorum.  Surely  if  any  one  is  convinced  of  the  reality  of  an 
acquisition,  he  can  bear  not  to  have  it  spoken  of  every  minute.  If 
he  knows  he  has  an  undoubted  superiority  in  any  respect,  he  will 
not  be  uneasy  because  every  one  he  meets  is  not  in  the  secret,  nor 
staggered  by  the  report  of  rival  excellence. 

There  are  persons  who,  without  being  chargeable  with  the  vice 
here  spoken  of,  yet  "  stand  accountant  for  as  great  a  sin  ;  "  though 
not  dull  and  monotonous,  they  are  vivacious  mannerists  in  their 
conversation  and  excessive  egotists.  Though  they  run  over  a  thou- 
sand subjects  in  mere  gaiety  of  heart,  their  delight  still  flows  from 
one  idea,  namely,  themselves.  Open  the  book  in  what  page  you 
will,  there  is  a  frontispiece  of  themselves  staring  you  in  the  face. 
They  are  a  sort  of  Jacks  61  the  Green,  with  a  sprig  of  laurel,  a  little 
tinsel,  and  a  little  smut,  but  still  playing  antics  and  keeping  in 
incessant  motion,  to  attract  attention  and  extort  your  pittance  of 
approbation.  Whether  they  talk  of  the  town  or  the  country,  poetry 
or  politics,  it  comes  to  much  the  same  thing.  If  they  talk  to  you 
of  the  town,  its  diversions,  "  its  palaces,  its  ladies,  and  its  streets," 
they  are  the  delight,  the  grace,  and  ornament  of  it.  If  they  are 
describing  the  charms  of  the  country,  they  give  no  account  of  any 
individual  spot  or  object  or  source  of  pleasure  but  the  circumstance 
of  their  being  there.  "  With  them  conversing,  we  forget  all  place, 
all  seasons,  and  their  change."  They  perhaps  pluck  a  leaf  or  a 
flower,  patronise  it,  and  hand  it  you  to  admire,  but  select  no  one 
feature  of  beauty  or  grandeur  to  dispute  the  palm  of  perfection  with 
their  own  persons.  Their  rural  descriptions  are  mere  landscape 
backgrounds  with  their  own  portraits  in  an  engaging  attitude  in 
front.  They  are  not  observing  or  enjoying  the  scene,  but  doing 
the  honours  as  masters  of  the  ceremonies  to  nature,  and  arbiters 
of  elegance  to  all  humanity.  If  they  tell  a  love-tale  of  enamoured 
princesses,  it  is  plain  they  fancy  themselves  the  hero  of  the  piece. 
If  they  discuss  poetry,  their  encomiums  still  turn  on  something 
genial  and  unsophisticated,  meaning  their  own  style ;  if  they  enter 
into  politics,  it  is  understood  that  a  hint  from  them  to  the  potentates 
of  Europe  is  sufficient.  In  short,  as  a  lover  (talk  of  what  you  will) 
brings  in  his  mistress  at  every  turn,  so  these  persons  contrive  to 
divert  your  attention  to  the  same  darling  object — they  are,  in  fact, 
in  love  with  themselves,  and,  like  lovers,  should  be  left  to  keep  their 
own  company. 


THE  INDIAN  JUGGLERS.  209 


THE  INDIAN  JUGGLERS. 

COMING  forward  and  seating  himself  on  the  ground  in  his  white 
dress  and  tightened  turban,  the  chief  of  the  Indian  jugglers  begins 
with  tossing  up  two  brass  balls,  which  is  what  any  of  us  could  do, 
and  concludes  with  keeping  up  four  at  the  same  time,  which  is  what 
none  of  us  could  do  to  save  our  lives,  nor  if  we  were  to  take  our 
whole  lives  to  do  it  in.  Is  it,  then,  a  trifling  power  we  see  at  work, 
or  is  it  not  something  next  to  miraculous  ?  It  is  the  utmost  stretch 
of  human  ingenuity,  which  nothing  but  the  bending  the  faculties 
of  body  and  mind  to  it  from  the  tenderest  infancy  with  incessant, 
ever-anxious  application  up  to  manhood  can  accomplish  or  make 
even  a  slight  approach  to.  Man,  thou  art  a  wonderful  animal,  and 
thy  ways  past  finding  out !  Thou  canst  do  strange  things,  but  thou 
turnest  them  to  little  account ! — To  conceive  of  this  effort  of  extra- 
ordinary dexterity  distracts  the  imagination  and  makes  admiration 
breathless.  Yet  it  costs  nothing  to  the  performer,  any  more  than 
if  it  were  a  mere  mechanical  deception  with  which  he  had  nothing 
to  do  but  to  watch  and  laugh  at  the  astonishment  of  the  spectators. 
A  single  error  of  a  hair's-breadth,  of  the  smallest  conceivable  portion 
of  time,  would  be  fatal :  the  precision  of  the  movements  must  be 
like  a  mathematical  truth,  their  rapidity  is  like  lightning.  To  catch 
four  balls  in  succession  in  less  than  a  second  of  time,  and  deliver 
them  back  so  as  to  return  with  seeming  consciousness  to  the 
hand  again ;  to  make  them  revolve  round  him  at  certain  intervals, 
like  the  planets  in  their  spheres ;  to  make  them  chase  one  another 
like  sparkles  of  fire,  or  shoot  up  like  flowers  or  meteors ;  to  throw 
them  behind  his  back  and  twine  them  round  his  neck  like  ribbons 
or  like  serpents ;  to  do  what  appears  an  impossibility,  and  to  do  it 
with  all  the  ease,  the  grace,  the  carelessness  imaginable ;  to  laugh  at, 
to  play  with  the  glittering  mockeries ;  to  follow  them  with  his  eye 
as  if  he  could  fascinate  them  with  its  lambent  fire,  or  as  if  he  had 
only  to  see  that  they  kept  time  with  the  music  on  the  stage — there 
is  something  in  all  this  which  he  who  does  not  admire  may  be  quite 
sure  he  never  really  admired  anything  in  the  whole  course  of  his 
life.  It  is  skill  surmounting  difficulty,  and  beauty  triumphing 
over  skill.  It  seems  as  if  the  difficulty  once  mastered  naturally 
revolved  itself  into  ease  and  grace,  and  as  if,  to  be  overcome 
at  all,  it  must  be  overcome  without  an  effort.  The  smallest 
awkwardness  or  want  of  pliancy  or  self-possession  would  stop 
the  whole  process.  It  is  the  work  of  witchcraft,  and  yet  sport 


210        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

for  children.  Some  of  the  other  feats  are  quite  as  curious  and 
wonderful,  such  as  the  balancing  the  artificial  tree  and  shooting  a 
bird  from  each  branch  through  a  quill ;  though  none  of  them  have 
the  elegance  or  facility  of  the  keeping  up  of  the  brass  balls.  You 
are  in  pain  for  the  result,  and  glad  when  the  experiment  is  over ; 
they  are  not  accompanied  with  the  same  unmixed,  unchecked  delight 
as  the  former ;  and  I  would  not  give  much  to  be  merely  astonished 
without  being  pleased  at  the  same  time.  As  to  the  swallowing  of 
the  sword,  the  police  ought  to  interfere  to  prevent  it.  When  I  saw 
the  Indian  juggler  do  the  same  things  before,  his  feet  were  bare, 
and  he  had  large  rings  on  the  toes,  which  kept  turning  round  all 
the  time  of  the  performance,  as  if  they  moved  of  themselves.  The 
hearing  a  speech  in  Parliament,  drawled  or  stammered  out  by  the 
Honourable  Member  or  the  Noble  Lord,  the  ringing  the  changes  on 
their  commonplaces,  which  any  one  could  repeat  after  them  as  well 
as  they,  stirs  me  not  a  jot,  shakes  not  my  good  opinion  of  myself ; 
but  the  seeing  the  Indian  jugglers  does.  It  makes  me  ashamed  of 
myself.  I  ask  what  there  is  that  I  can  do  as  well  as  this  ?  Nothing. 
What  have  I  been  doing  all  my  life  ?  Have  I  been  idle,  or  have  I 
nothing  to  show  for*  all  my  labour  and  pains  ?  Or  have  I  passed  my 
time  in  pouring  words  like  water  into  empty  sieves,  rolling  a  stone 
up  a  hill  and  then  down  again,  trying  to  prove  an  argument  in  the 
teeth  of  facts,  and  looking  for  causes  in  the  dark,  and  not  finding 
them  ?  Is  there  no  one  thing  in  which  I  can  challenge  competition, 
that  I  can  bring  as  an  instance  of  exact  perfection,  in  which  others 
cannot  find  a  flaw?  The  utmost  I  can  pretend  to  is  to  write  a 
description  of  what  this  fellow  can  do.  I  can  write  a  book ;  so  can 
many  others  who  have  not  even  learned  to  spell.  What  abortions  are 
these  Essays !  What  errors,  what  ill-pieced  transitions,  what  crooked 
reasons,  what  lame  conclusions !  How  little  is  made  out,  and  that 
little  how  ill !  Yet  they  are  the  best  I  can  do.  I  endeavour  to 
recollect  all  I  have  ever  observed  or  thought  upon  a  subject,  and 
to  express  it  as  nearly  as  I  can.  Instead  of  writing  on  four  subjects 
at  a  time,  it  is  as  much  as  I  can  manage  to  keep  the  thread  of  one 
discourse  clear  and  unentangled.  I  have  also  time  on  my  hands  to 
correct  my  opinions  and  polish  my  periods ;  but  the  one  I  cannot, 
and  the  other  I  will  not  do.  I  am  fond  of  arguing ;  yet  with  a  good 
deal  of  pains  and  practice  it  is  often  as  much  as  I  can  do  to  beat 
my  man,  though  he  may  be  an  indifferent  hand.  A  common  fencer 
would  disarm  his  adversary  in  the  twinkling  of  an  eye,  unless  he 
were  a  professor  like  himself.  A  stroke  of  wit  will  sometimes  pro- 
duce this  effect,  but  there  is  no  such  power  or  superiority  in  sense 
or  reasoning.  There  is  no  complete  mastery  of  execution  to  be 


THE  INDIAN  "JUGGLERS.  211 

shown  there ;  and  yoxi  hardly  know  the  professor  from  the  impudent 
pretender  or  the  mere  clown.  .  .    . 

Further,  what  is  meant  by  perfection  in  mechanical  exercises  is 
the  performing  certain  feats  to  a  uniform  nicety,  that  is,  in  fact, 
undertaking  no  more  than  you  can  perform.  You  task  yourself; 
the  limit  you  fix  is  optional,  and  no  more  than  human  industry  and 
skill  can  attain  to ;  but  you  have  no  abstract,  independent  standard 
of  difficulty  or  excellence  (other  than  the  extent  of  your  own 
powers).  Thus  he  who  can  keep  up  four  brass  balls  does  this  to 
perfection;  but  he  cannot  keep  up  five  at  the  same  instant,  and 
would  fail  every  time  he  attempted  it.  That  is,  the  mechanical 
performer  undertakes  to  emulate  himself,  not  to  equal  another. 
But  the  artist  undertakes  to  imitate  another,  or  to  do  what  nature 
has  done,  and  this,  it  appears,  is  more  difficult,  viz.,  to  copy  what 
she  has  set  before  us  in  the  face  of  nature  or  "  human  face  divine," 
entire  and  without  a  blemish,  than  to  keep  up  four  brass  balls  at 
the  same  instant ;  for  the  one  is  done  by  the  power  of  human  skill 
and  industry,  and  the  other  never  was  nor  will  be.  Upon  the  whole, 
therefore,  I  have  more  respect  for  Reynolds  than  I  have  for  Richer; 
for,  happen  how  it  will,  there  have  been  more  people  in  the  world 
who  could  dance  on  a  rope  like  the  one  than  who  could  paint  like 
Sir  Joshua.  The  latter  was  but  a  bungler  in  his  profession  to  the 
other,  it  is  true ;  but  then  he  had  a  harder  taskmaster  to  obey, 
whose  will  was  more  wayward  and  obscure,  and  whose  instructions 
it  was  more  difficult  to  practise.  You  can  put  a  child  apprentice 
to  a  tumbler  or  rope-dancer  with  a  comfortable  prospect  of  success, 
if  they  are  but  sound  of  wind  and  limb ;  but  you  cannot  do  the 
same  thing  in  painting.  The  odds  are  a  million  to  one.  You  may 

make,  indeed,  as  many  Haydons  and  H s  as  you  put  into  that 

sort  of  machine,  but  not  one  Reynolds  amongst  them  all,  with  his 
grace,  his  grandeur,  his  blandness  of  gusto,  "  in  tones  and  gestures 
hit,"  unless  you  could  make  the  man  over  again.  To  snatch  this 
grace  beyond  the  reach  of  art  is,  then,  the  height  of  art,  where  fine 
art  begins,  and  where  mechanical  skill  ends.  The  soft  suffusion  of 
the  soul,  the  speechless  breathing  eloquence,  the  looks  "  commercing 
with  the  skies,"  the  ever-shifting  forms  of  an  eternal  principle,  that 
which  is  seen  but  for  a  moment,  but  dwells  in  the  heart  always, 
and  is  only  seized  as  it  passes  by  strong  and  secret  sympathy,  must 
be  taught  by  nature  and  genius,  not  by  rules  or  study.  It  is  sug- 
gested by  feeling,  not  by  laborious  microscopic  inspection ;  in  seek- 
ing for  it  without,  we  lose  the  harmonious  clue  to  it  within ;  and 
in  aiming  to  grasp  the  substance,  we  let  the  very  spirit  of  art 
evaporate.  In  a  word,  the  objects  of  fine  art  are  not  the  objects 


212         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

of  sight  but  as  these  last  are  the  objects  of  taste  and  imagination, 
that  is,  as  they  appeal  to  the  sense  of  beauty,  of  pleasure,  and  of 
power  in  the  human  breast,  and  are  explained  by  that  finer  sense, 
and  revealed  in  their  inner  structure  to  the  eye  in  return.  Nature 
is  also  a  language.  Objects,  like  words,  have  a  meaning ;  and  the 
true  artist  is  the  interpreter  of  this  language,  which  he  can  only 
do  by  knowing  its  application  to  a  thousand  other  objects  in  a 
thousand  other  situations.  Thus  the  eye  is  too  blind  a  guide  of 
itself  to  distinguish  between  the  warm  or  cold  tone  of  a  deep-blue 
sky,  but  another  sense  acts  as  a  monitor  to  it,  and  does  not  err. 
The  colour  of  the  leaves  in  autumn  would  be  nothing  without  the 
feeling  that  accompanies  it ;  but  it  is  that  feeling  that  stamps  them 
on  the  canvas,  faded,  seared,  blighted,  shrinking  from  the  winter's 
flaw,  and  makes  the  sight  as  true  as  touch 

"  And  visions,  as  poetic  eyes  avow, 
Cling  to  each  leaf  and  hang  on  every  bough." 

The  more  ethereal,  evanescent,  more  refined  and  sublime  part  of 
art  is  the  seeing  nature  through  the  medium  of  sentiment  and 
passion,  as  each  object  is  a  symbol  of  the  affections  and  a  link  in  the 
chain  of  our  endless  being.  But  the  unravelling  this  mysterious 
web  of  thought  and  feeling  is  alone  in  the  Muse's  gift,  namely,  in 
the  power  of  that  trembling  sensibility  which  is  awake  to  every 
change  and  every  modification  of  its  ever-varying  impressions,  that 

' '  Thrills  in  each  nerve,  and  lives  along  the  line. " 

This  power  is  indifferently  called  genius,  imagination,  feeling, 
taste ;  but  the  manner  in  which  it  acts  upon  the  mind  can  neither 
be  defined  by  abstract  rules,  as  is  the  case  in  science,  nor  verified 
by  continual  unvarying  experiments,  as  is  the  case  in  mechanical 
performances.  The  mechanical  excellence  of  the  Dutch  painters  in 
colouring  and  handling  is  that  which  comes  the  nearest  in  fine  art 
to  the  perfection  of  certain  manual  exhibitions  of  skill.  The  truth 
of  the  effect  and  the  facility  with  which  it  is  produced  are  equally 
admirable.  Up  to  a  certain  point,  everything  is  faultless.  The 
hand  and  eye  have  done  their  part.  There  is  only  a  want  of 
taste  and  genius.  It  is  after  we  enter  upon  that  enchanted 
ground  that  the  human  mind  begins  to  droop  and  flag  as  in  a 
strange  road  or  in  a  thick  mist,  benighted  and  making  little  way 
with  many  attempts  and  many  failures,  and  that  the  best  of  us  only 
escape  with  half  a  triumph.  The  undefined  and  the  imaginary  are 
the  regions  that  we  must  pass  like  Satan,  difficult  and  doubtful, 
"  half-flying,  half  on  foot."  The  object  in  sense  is  a  positive  thing, 
and  execution  conies  with  practice. 


THE  INDIAN  JUGGLERS.  213 

Cleverness  is  a  certain  knack  or  aptitude  at  doing  certain  things 
which  depend  more  on  a  particular  adroitness  and  off-hand  readiness 
than  on  force  or  perseverance,  such  as  making  puns,  making  epi- 
grams, making  extempore  verses,  mimicking  the  company,  mimicking 
a  style,  &c.  Cleverness  is  either  liveliness  and  smartness,  or  some- 
thing answering  to  sleight-of-hand,  like  letting  a  glass  fall  sideways 
off  a  table,  or  else  a  trick,  like  knowing  the  secret  spring  of  a  watch. 
Accomplishments  are  certain  external  graces,  which  are  to  be  learned 
from  others,  and  which  are  easily  displayed  to  the  admiration  of  the 
beholder,  viz.,  dancing,  riding,  fencing,  music,  and  so  on.  These 
ornamental  acquirements  are  only  proper  to  those  who  are  at  ease 
in  mind  and  fortune.  I  know  an  individual  who,  if  he  had  been 
born  to  an  estate  of  five  thousand  a  year,  would  have  been  the 
most  accomplished  gentleman  of  the  age.  He  would  have  been  the 
delight  and  envy  of  the  circle  in  which  he  moved — would  have  graced 
by  his  manners  the  liberality  flowing  from  the  openness  of  his  heart, 
would  have  laughed  with  the  women,  have  argued  with  the  men, 
have  said  good  things  and  written  agreeable  ones,  have  taken  a  hand 
at  piquet  or  the  lead  at  the  harpsichord,  and  have  set  and  sung  his 
own  verses — nugce  canorce — with  tenderness  and  spirit ;  a  Rochester 
without  the  vice,  a  modern  Surrey  !  As  it  is,  all  these  capabilities 
of  excellence  stand  in  his  way.  He  is  too  versatile  for  a  professional 
man,  not  dull  enough  for  a  political  drudge,  too  gay  to  be  happy, 
too  thoughtless  to  be  rich.  He  wants  the  enthusiasm  of  the  poet, 
the  severity  of  the  prose-writer,  and  the  application  of  the  man  of 
business. — Talent  is  the  capacity  of  doing  anything  that  depends 
on  application  and  industry,  such  as  writing  a  criticism,  making  a 
speech,  studying  the  law.  Talent  differs  from  genius,  as  voluntary 
differs  from  involuntary  power.  Ingenuity  is  genius  in  trifles, 
greatness  is  genius  in  undertakings  of  much  pith  and  moment.  A 
clever  or  ingenious  man  is  one  who  can  do  anything  well,  whether  it 
is  worth  doing  or  not ;  a  great  man  is  one  who  can  do  that  which 
when  done  is  of  the  highest  importance.  Themistocles  said  he  could 
not  play  on  the  flute,  but  that  he  could  make  of  a  small  city  a 
great  one.  This  gives  one  a  pretty  good  idea  of  the  distinction 
in  question. 

Greatness  is  great  power,  producing  great  effects.  It  is  not 
enough  that  a  man  has  great  power  in  himself,  he  must  show  it  to 
all  the  world  in  a  way  that  cannot  be  hid  or  gainsaid.  He  must 
fill  up  a  certain  idea  in  the  public  mind.  I  have  no  other  notion  of 
greatness  than  this  twofold  definition,  great  results  springing  from 
great  inherent  energy.  The  great  in  visible  objects  has  relation  to 
that  which  extends  over  space  :  the  great  in  mental  ones  has  to  do 


214         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

with  space  and  time.  No  man  is  truly  great  who  is  great  only  in 
his  life-time.  The  test  of  greatness  is  the  page  of  history.  Nothing 
can  be  said  to  be  great  that  has  a  distinct  limit,  or  that  borders  on 
something  evidently  greater  than  itself.  Besides,  what  is  short- 
lived and  pampered  into  mere  notoriety  is  of  a  gross  and  vulgar 
quality  in  itself.  A  Lord  Mayor  is  hardly  a  great  man.  A  city 
orator  or  patriot  of  the  day  only  show,  by  reaching  the  height  of 
their  wishes,  the  distance  they  are  at  from  any  true  ambition. 
Popularity  is  neither  fame  nor  greatness.  A  king  (as  such)  is  not 
a  great  man.  He  has  great  power,  but  it  is  not  his  own.  He 
merely  wields  the  lever  of  the  State,  which  a  child,  an  idiot,  or  a 
madman  can  do.  It  is  the  office,  not  the  man,  we  gaze  at.  Any 
one  else  in  the  same  situation  would  be  just  as  much  an  object  of 
abject  curiosity.  We  laugh  at  the  country  girl  who,  having  seen  a 
king,  expressed  her  disappointment  by  saying,  "  Why,  he  is  only  a 
man ! "  Yet,  knowing  this,  we  run  to  see  a  king  as  if  he  was  some- 
thing more  than  a  man.  To  display  the  greatest  powers,  unless 
they  are  applied  to  great  purposes,  makes  nothing  for  the  character 
of  greatness.  To  throw  a  barleycorn  through  the  eye  of  a  needle, 
to  multiply  nine  figures  by  nine  in  the  memory,  argues  definite 
dexterity  of  body  and  capacity  of  mind,  but  nothing  comes  of  either. 
There  is  a  surprising  power  at  work,  but  the  effects  are  not  propor- 
tionate, or  such  as  take  hold  of  the  imagination.  To  impress  the 
idea  of  power  on  others,  they  must  be  made  in  some  way  to  feel  it. 
It  must  be  communicated  to  their  understandings  in  the  shape  of 
an  increase  of  knowledge,  or  it  must  subdue  and  overawe  them  by 
subjecting  their  wills.  Admiration  to  be  solid  and  lasting  must  be 
founded  on  proofs  from  which  we  have  no  means  of  escaping ;  it  is 
neither  a  slight  nor  a  voluntary  gift.  A  mathematician  who  solves 
a  profound  problem,  a  poet  who  creates  an  image  of  beauty  in  the 
mind  that  was  not  there  before,  imparts  knowledge  and  power  to 
others,  in  which  his  greatness  and  his  fame  consists,  and  on  which 
it  reposes.  Jedediah  Buxton  will  be  forgotten ;  but  Napier's  bones 
will  live.  Lawgivers,  philosophers,  founders  of  religion,  conquerors 
and  heroes,  inventors  and  great  geniuses  in  arts  and  sciences,  are 
great  men,  for  they  are  great  public  benefactors,  or  formidable 
scourges  to  mankind.  Among  ourselves,  Shakspeare,  Newton, 
Bacon,  Milton,  Cromwell,  were  great  men,  for  they  showed  great 
power  by  acts  and  thoughts,  which  have  not  yet  been  consigned  to 
oblivion.  They  must  needs  be  men  of  lofty  stature  whose  shadows 
lengthen  out  to  remote  posterity.  A  great  farce-writer  may  be  a 
great  man  ;  for  Moliere  was  but  a  great  farce-writer.  In  my  mind, 
the  author  of  "  Don  Quixote  "  was  a  great  man.  So  have  there  been 


THE  INDIAN  JUGGLERS.  215 

many  others.  A  great  chess-player  is  not  a  great  man,  for  he 
leaves  the  world  as  he  found  it.  No  act  terminating  in  itself 
constitutes  greatness.  This  will  apply  to  all  displays  of  power  or 
trials  of  skill,  which  are  confined  to  the  momentary,  individual 
effort,  and  construct  no  permanent  image  or  trophy  of  themselves 
without  them.  Is  not  an  actor,  then,  a  great  man,  because  "he 
dies  and  leaves  the  world  no  copy  "  ?  I  must  make  an  exception 
for  Mrs.  Siddons,  or  else  give  up  my  definition  of  greatness  for  her 
sake.  A  man  at  the  top  of  his  profession  is  not  therefore  a  great 
man.  He  is  great  in  his  way,  but  that  is  all,  unless  he  shows  the 
marks  of  a  great  moving  intellect,  so  that  we  trace  the  master-mind, 
and  can  sympathise  with  the  springs  that  urge  him  on.  The  rest 
is  but  a  craft  or  mystery.  John  Hunter  was  a  great  man — that  any 
one  might  see  without  the  smallest  skill  in  surgery.  His  style  and 
manner  showed  the  man.  He  would  set  about  cutting  up  the  carcass 
of  a  whale  with  the  same  greatness  of  gusto  that  Michael  Angelo 
would  have  hewn  a  block  of  marble.  Lord  Nelson  was  a  great  naval 
commander ;  but  for  myself,  I  have  not  much  opinion  of  a  seafaring 
life.  Sir  Humphry  Davy  is  a  great  chemist,  but  I  am  not  sure 
that  he  is  a  great  man.  I  am  not  a  bit  the  wiser  for  any  of  his 
discoveries,  nor  I  never  met  with  any  one  that  was.  But  it  is  in 
the  nature  of  greatness  to  propagate  an  idea  of  itself,  as  wave  impels 
wave,  circle  without  circle.  It  is  a  contradiction  in  terms  for  a 
coxcomb  to  be  a  great  man.  A  really  great  man  has  always  an 
idea  of  something  greater  than  himself.  I  have  observed  that 
certain  sectaries  and  polemical  writers  have  no  higher  compli- 
ment to  pay  their  most  shining  lights  than  to  say  that  "  such  a  one 
was  a  considerable  man  in  his  day."  Some  new  elucidation  of  a 
text  sets  aside  the  authority  of  the  old  interpretation,  and  a  "  great 
scholar's  memory  outlives  him  half-a-century,"  at  the  utmost.  A 
rich  man  is  not  a  great  man,  except  to  his  dependents  and  his 
steward.  A  lord  is  a  great  man  in  the  idea  we  have  of  his  ancestry, 
and  probably  of  himself,  if  we  know  nothing  of  him  but  his  title. 
I  have  heard  a  story  of  two  bishops,  one  of  whom  said  (speaking  of 
St.  Peter's  at  Home)  that  when  he  first  entered  it  he  was  rather 
awe-struck,  but  that  as  he  walked  up  it  his  mind  seemed  to  swell 
and  dilate  with  it  and  at  last  to  fill  the  whole  building :  the  other 
said,  that  as  he  saw  more  of  it  he  appeared  to  himself  to  grow  less 
and  less  every  step  he  took,  and  in  the  end  to  dwindle  into  nothing. 
This  was  in  some  respects  a  striking  picture  of  a  great  and  little 
mind — for  greatness  sympathises  with  greatness,  and  littleness 
shrinks  into  itself.  The  one  might  have  become  a  Wolsey;  the 
other  was  only  fit  to  become  a  Mendicant  Friar — or  there  might 


216        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

have  been  court-reasons  for  making  him  a  bishop.  The  French 
have  to  me  a  character  of  littleness  in  all  about  them ;  but  they 
have  produced  three  great  men  that  belong  to  every  country, 
Moliere,  Rabelais,  and  Montaigne. 


JOHN  CAVANAGH. 

To  return  from  this  digression,  and  conclude  the  Essay.  A  singular 
instance  of  manual  dexterity  was  shown  in  the  person  of  the  late 
John  Cavanagh,  whom  I  have  several  times  seen.  His  death  was 
celebrated  at  the  time  in  an  article  in  the  Examiner  newspaper 
(February  7,  1819),  written  apparently  between  jest  and  earnest; 
but  as  it  is  pat  to  our  purpose,  and  falls  in  with  my  own  way  of  con- 
sidering such  subjects,  I  shall  here  take  leave  to  quote  it : — 

"  Died  at  his  house  in  Burbage  Street,  St.  Giles's,  John  Cavanagh, 
the  famous  hand  fives-player.  When  a  person  dies  who  does  any 
one  thing  better  than  any  one  else  in  the  world,  which  so  many 
others  are  trying  to  do  well,  it  leaves  a  gap  in  society.  It  is  not 
likely  that  any  one  will  now  see  the  game  of  fives  played  in  its  perfec- 
tion for  many  years  to  come — for  Cavanagh  is  dead,  and  has  not  left 
his  peer  behind  him.  It  may  be  said  that  there  are  things  of  more 
importance  than  striking  a  ball  against  a  wall — there  are  things, 
indeed,  that  make  more  noise  and  do  as  little  good,  such  as  making 
war  and  peace,  making  speeches  and  answering  them,  making  verses 
and  blotting  them,  making  money  and  throwing  it  away.  But 
the  game  of  fives  is  what  no  one  despises  who  has  ever  played  at  it. 
It  is  the  finest  exercise  for  the  body,  and  the  best  relaxation  for  the 
mind.  The  Roman  poet  said  that '  Care  mounted  behind  the  horse- 
man and  stuck  to  his  skirts.'  But  this  remark  would  not  have 
applied  to  the  fives-player.  He  who  takes  to  playing  at  fives  is 
twice  young.  He  feels  neither  the  past  nor  future  '  in  the  instant.' 
Debts,  taxes,  'domestic  treason,  foreign  levy,  nothing  can  touch 
him  further.'  He  has  no  other  wish,  no  other  thought,  from  the 
moment  the  game  begins,  but  that  of  striking  the  ball,  of  placing 
it,  of  malting  it!  This  Cavanagh  was  sure  to  do.  Whenever  he 
touched  the  ball  there  was  an  end  of  the  chase.  His  eye  was 
certain,  his  hand  fatal,  his  presence  of  mind  complete.  He  could 
do  what  he  pleased,  and  he  always  knew  exactly  what  to  do.  He 
saw  the  whole  game,  and  played  it ;  took  instant  advantage  of  his 
adversary's  weakness,  and  recovered  balls,  as  if  by  a  miracle  and  from 
sudden  thought,  that  every  one  gave  for  lost.  He  had  equal  power 
and  skill,  quickness  and  judgment.  He  could  either  outwit  his 


JOHN  CAVANAGH,  THE  FIVES-PLAYER.  217 

antagonist  by  finesse,  or  beat  him  by  main  strength.  Sometimes, 
when  he  seemed  preparing  to  send  the  ball  with  the  full  swing  of 
his  arm,  he  would  by  a  slight  turn  of  his  wrist  drop  it  within  an 
inch  of  the  line.  In  general,  the  ball  came  from  his  hand,  as  if 
from  a  racket,  in  a  straight  horizontal  line ;  so  that  it  was  in  vain 
to  attempt  to  overtake  or  stop  it.  As  it  was  said  of  a  great  orator 
that  he  never  was  at  a  loss  for  a  word,  and  for  the  properest  word, 
so  Cavanagh  always  could  tell  the  degree  of  force  necessary  to  be 
given  to  a  ball,  and  the  precise  direction  in  which  it  should  be  sent. 
He  did  his  work  with  the  greatest  ease,  never  took  more  pains  than 
was  necessary,  and  while  others  were  fagging  themselves  to  death, 
was  as  cool  and  collected  as  if  he  had  just  entered  the  court.  His 
style  of  play  was  as  remarkable  as  his  power  of  execution.  He  had 
no  affectation,  no  trifling.  He  did  not  throw  away  the  game  to 
show  off  an  attitude  or  try  an  experiment.  He  was  a  fine,  sensible, 
manly  player,  who  did  what  he  could,  but  that  was  more  than  any 
one  else  could  even  affect  to  do.  His  blows  were  not  undecided  and 
ineffectual — lumbering  like  Mr.  Wordsworth's  epic  poetry,  nor  waver- 
ing like  Mr.  Coleridge's  lyric  prose,  nor  short  of  the  mark  like  Mr. 
Brougham's  speeches,  nor  wide  of  it  like  Mr.  Canning's  wit,  nor  foul 
like  the  Quarterly,  nor  let  balls  like  the  Edinburgh  Review.  Cobbett 
and  Junius  together  would  have  made  a  Cavanagh.  He  was  the 
best  uphill  player  in  the  world ;  even  when  his  adversary  was  four- 
teen, he  would  play  on  the  same  or  better,  and  as  he  never  flung 
away  the  game  through  carelessness  and  conceit,  he  never  gave  it  up 
through  laziness  or  want  of  heart.  The  one  peculiarity  of  his  play 
was  that  he  never  volleyed,  but  let  the  balls  hop ;  but  if  they  rose 
an  inch  from  the  ground,  he  never  missed  having  them.  There  was 
not  only  nobody  equal,  but  nobody  second  to  him.  It  is  supposed 
that  he  could  give  any  other  player  half  the  game,  or  beat  them 
with  his  left  hand.  His  service  was  tremendous.  He  once  played 
Woodward  and  Meredith  together  (two  of  the  best  players  in 
England)  in  the  Fives-court,  St.  Martin's  Street,  and  made  seven- 
and-twenty  aces  following  by  services  alone — a  thing  unheard  of. 
He  another  time  played  Peru,  who  was  considered  a  first-rate  fives- 
player,  a  match  of  the  best  out  of  five  games,  and  in  the  three  first 
games,  which  of  course  decided  the  match,  Peru  got  only  one  ace. 
Cavanagh  was  an  Irishman  by  birth,  and  a  house-painter  by  pro- 
fession. He  had  once  laid  aside  his  working-dress,  and  walked  up, 
in  his  smartest  clothes,  to  the  Rosemary  Branch  to  have  an  after- 
noon's pleasure.  A  person  accosted  him,  and  asked  him  if  he  would 
have  a  game.  So  they  agreed  to  play  for  half-a-crown  a  game  and 
a  bottle  of  cider.  The  first  game  began — it  was  seven,  eight,  ten, 


218        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

thirteen,  fourteen,  all.  Cavanagh  won  it.  The  next  was  the  same. 
They  played  on,  and  each  game  was  hardly  contested.  '  There,'  said 
the  unconscious  fives-player,  'there  was  a  stroke  that  Cavanagh 
could  not  take:  I  never  played  better  in  my  life,  and  yet  I  can't  win  a 
game.  I  don't  know  how  it  is ! '  However,  they  played  on,  Cavanagh 
winning  every  game  and  the  bystanders  drinking  the  cider  and  laugh- 
ing all  the  time.  In  the  twelfth  game,  when  Cavanagh  was  only 
four,  and  the  stranger  thirteen,  a  person  came  in  and  said, '  What ! 
are  you  here,  Cavanagh  ?  '  The  words  were  no  sooner  pronounced 
than  the  astonished  player  let  the  ball  drop  from  his  hand,  and 
saying,  '  What !  have  I  been  breaking  my  heart  all  this  time  to 
beat  Cavanagh  ?  '  refused  to  make  another  effort.  '  And  yet,  I  give 
you  my  word,'  said  Cavanagh,  telling  the  story  with  some  triumph, 
'  I  played  all  the  while  with  my  clenched  fist.' — He  used  frequently 
to  play  matches  at  Copenhagen  House  for  wagers  and  dinners. 
The  wall  against  which  they  play  is  the  same  that  supports  the 
kitchen  chimney,  and  when  the  wall  resounded  louder  than  usual, 
the  cooks  exclaimed,  'Those  are  the  Irishman's  balls,'  and  the 
joints  trembled  on  the  spit ! — Goldsmith  consoled  himself  that 
there  were  places  where  he  too  was  admired ;  and  Cavanagh  was 
the  admiration  of  all  the  fives-courts  where  he  ever  played.  Mr. 
Powell,  when  he  played  matches  in  the  court  in  St.  Martin's 
Street,  used  to  fill  his  gallery  at  half-a-crown  a  head,  with  amateurs 
and  admirers  of  talent  in  whatever  department  it  is  shown.  He 
could  not  have  shown  himself  in  any  ground  in  England  but  he 
would  have  been  immediately  surrounded  with  inquisitive  gazers, 
trying  to  find  out  in  what  part  of  his  frame  his  unrivalled  skill  lay. 
He  was  a  young  fellow  of  sense,  humour,  and  courage.  He  once 
had  a  quarrel  with  a  waterman  at  Hungerford  Stairs,  and,  they  say, 
served  him  out  in  great  style.  In  a  word,  there  are  hundreds  at 
this  day  who  cannot  mention  his  name  without  admiration,  as  the 
best  fives-player  that  perhaps  ever  lived  (the  greatest  excellence 
of  which  they  have  any  notion)  ;  and  the  noisy  shout  of  the  ring 
happily  stood  him  in  stead  of  the  unheard  voice  of  posterity !  The 
only  person  who  seems  to  have  excelled  as  much  in  another  way 
as  Cavanagh  did  in  his  was  the  late  John  Davies,  the  racket-player. 
It  was  remarked  of  him  that  he  did  not  seem  to  follow  the  ball, 
but  the  ball  seemed  to  follow  him.  Give  him  a  foot  of  wall,  and 
he  was  sure  to  make  the  ball.  The  four  best  racket-players  of  that 
day  were  Jack  Spines,  Jem  Harding,  Armitage,  and  Church.  Davies 
could  give  any  one  of  these  two  hands  a  time,  that  is,  half  the 
game,  and  each  of  these,  at  their  best,  could  give  the  best  player 
now  in  London  the  same  odds.  Such  are  the  gradations  in  all 


LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF.  219 

exertions  of  human  skill  and  art.  He  once  played  four  capital 
players  together,  and  beat  them.  He  was  also  a  first-rate  tennis- 
player  and  an  excellent  fives-player.  In  the  Fleet  or  King's  Bench 
he  would  have  stood  against  Powell,  who  was  reckoned  the  best 
open-ground  player  of  his  time.  This  last-mentioned  player  is  at 
present  the  keeper  of  the  Fives-court,  and  we  might  recommend 
to  him  for  a  motto  over  his  door — '  Who  enters  here  forgets  him- 
self, his  country,  and  his  friends.'  And  the  best  of  it  is,  that  by 
the  calculation  of  the  odds,  none  of  the  three  are  worth  remember- 
ing ! — Cavanagh  died  from  the  bursting  of  a  blood-vessel,  which 
prevented  him  from  playing  for  the  last  two  or  three  years.  This, 
he  was  often  heard  to  say,  he  thought  hard  upon  him.  He  was 
fast  recovering,  however,  when  he  was  suddenly  carried  off,  to  the 
regret  of  all  who  knew  him.  As  Mr.  Peel  made  it  a  qualification 
of  the  present  Speaker,  Mr.  Manners  Sutton,  that  he  was  an  excel- 
lent moral  character,  so  Jack  Cavanagh  was  a  zealous  Catholic,  and 
could  not  be  persuaded  to  eat  meat  on  a  Friday,  the  day  on  which 
he  died.  We  have  paid  this  willing  tribute  to  his  memory. 

'  Let  no  rude  hand  deface  it, 
And  his  forlorn  "  Hie  Jacet."  ' " 


ON  LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF. 

"  Remote,  unfriended,  melancholy,  slow, 
Or  by  the  lazy  Scheldt  or  wandering  Po." 

I  NEVER  was  in  a  better  place  or  humour  than  I  am  at  present  for 
writing  on  this  subject.  I  have  a  partridge  getting  ready  for  my 
supper,  my  fire  is  blazing  on  the  hearth,  the  air  is  mild  for  the  season 
of  the  year,  I  have  had  but  a  slight  fit  of  indigestion  to-day  (the 
only  thing  that  makes  me  abhor  myself),  I  have  three  hours  good 
before  me,  and  therefore  I  will  attempt  it.  It  is  as  well  to  do  it  at 
once  as  to  have  it  to  do  for  a  week  to  come. 

If  the  writing  on  this  subject  is  no  easy  task,  the  thing  itself  is  a 
harder  one.  It  asks  a  troublesome  effort  to  ensure  the  admiration 
of  others :  it  is  a  still  greater  one  to  be  satisfied  with  one's  own 
thoughts.  As  I  look  from  the  window  at  the  wide  bare  heath  before 
me,  and  through  the  misty  moonlight  air  see  the  woods  that  wave 
over  the  top  of  Winterslow, 

"  While  heav'n's  chancel -vault  is  blind  with  sleet," 
my  mind  takes  its  flight  through  too  long  a  series  of  years,  supported 


220        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

only  by  the  patience  of  thought  and  secret  yearnings  after  truth 
and  good,  for  me  to  be  at  a  loss  to  understand  the  feeling  I  intend 
to  write  about ;  but  I  do  not  know  that  this  will  enable  me  to  con- 
vey it  more  agreeably  to  the  reader.  .  .  . 

What  I  mean  by  living  to  one's  self  is  living  in  the  world,  as  in  it, 
not  of  it ;  it  is  as  if  no  one  knew  there  was  such  a  person,  and  you 
wished  no  one  to  know  it ;  it  is  to  be  a  silent  spectator  of  the  mighty 
scene  of  things,  not  an  object  of  attention  or  curiosity  in  it ;  to  take 
a  thoughtful,  anxious  interest  in  what  is  passing  in  the  world,  but 
not  to  feel  the  slightest  inclination  to  make  or  meddle  with  it.  It 
is  such  a  life  as  a  pure  spirit  might  be  supposed  to  lead,  and  such  an 
interest  as  it  might  take  in  the  affairs  of  men,  calm,  contemplative, 
passive,  distant,  touched  with  pity  for  their  sorrows,  smiling  at  their 
follies  without  bitterness,  sharing  their  affections,  but  not  troubled 
by  their  passions,  not  seeking  their  notice,  nor  once  dreamt  of  by 
them.  He  who  lives  wisely  to  himself  and  to  his  own  heart  looks 
at  the  busy  world  through  the  loopholes  of  retreat,  and  does  not 
want  to  mingle  in  the  fray.  "  He  hears  the  tumult,  and  is  still." 
He  is  not  able  to  mend  it,  nor  willing  to  mar  it.  He  sees  enough 
in  the  universe  to  interest  him  without  putting  himself  forward  to 
try  what  he  can  do  to  fix  the  eyes  of  the  universe  upon  him.  Vain 
the  attempt !  He  reads  the  clouds,  he  looks  at  the  stars,  he  watches 
the  return  of  the  seasons,  the  falling  leaves  of  autumn,  the  perfumed 
breath  of  spring,  starts  with  delight  at  the  note  of  a  thrush  in  a 
copse  near  him,  sits  by  the  fire,  listens  to  the  moaning  of  the  wind, 
pores  upon  a  book,  or  discourses  the  freezing  hours  away,  or  melts 
down  hours  to  minutes  in  pleasing  thought.  All  this  while  he 
is  taken  up  with  other  things,  forgetting  himself.  He  relishes  an 
author's  style  without  thinking  of  turning  author.  He  is  fond  of 
looking  at  a  print  from  an  old  picture  in  the  room,  without  teasing 
himself  to  copy  it.  He  does  not  fret  himself  to  death  with  trying 
to  be  what  he  is  not,  or  to  do  what  he  cannot.  He  hardly  knows 
what  he  is  capable  of,  and  is  not  in  the  least  concerned  whether  he 
shall  ever  make  a  figure  in  the  world.  He  feels  the  truth  of  the 
lines — 

"  The  man  whose  eye  is  ever  on  himself 
Doth  look  one,  the  least  of  nature's  works  ; 
One  who  might  move  the  wise  man  to  that  scorn 
Which  wisdom  holds  unlawful  ever." 

He  looks  out  of  himself  at  the  wide-extended  prospect  of  nature, 
and  takes  an  interest  beyond  his  narrow  pretensions  in  general 
humanity.  He  is  free  as  air,  and  independent  as  the  wind.  Woe 


LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF.  221 

be  to  him  when  he  first  begins  to  think  what  others  say  of  him. 
While  a  man  is  contented  with  himself  and  his  own  resources,  all  is 
well.  When  he  undertakes  to  play  a  part  on  the  stage,  and  to 
persuade  the  world  to  think  more  about  him  than  they  do  about 
themselves,  he  is  got  into  a  track  where  he  will  find  nothing  but 
briars  and  thorns,  vexation  and  disappointment.  I  can  speak  a 
little  to  this  point.  For  many  years  of  my  life  I  did  nothing  but 
think.  I  had  nothing  else  to  do  but  solve  some  knotty  point,  or 
dip  in  some  abstruse  author,  or  look  at  the  sky,  or  wander  by  the 
pebbled  sea-side : 

"  To  see  the  children  sporting  on  the  shore, 
And  hear  the  mighty  waters  rolling  evermore." 

I  cared  for  nothing,  I  wanted  nothing.  I  took  my  time  to  consider 
whatever  occurred  to  me,  and  was  in  no  hurry  to  give  a  sophistical 
answer  to  a  question — there  was  no  printer's  devil  waiting  for  me. 
I  used  to  write  a  page  or  two  perhaps  in  half  a  year,  and  remember 
laughing  heartily  at  the  celebrated  experimentalist,  Nicholson,  who 
told  me  that  in  twenty  years  he  had  written  as  much  as  would 
make  three  hundred  octavo  volumes.  If  I  was  not  a  great  author, 
I  could  read  with  ever-fresh  delight,  "  never  ending,  still  beginning," 
and  had  no  occasion  to  write  a  criticism  when  I  had  done.  If  I 
could  not  paint  like  Claude,  I  could  admire  "  the  witchery  of  the 
soft  blue  sky  "  as  I  walked  out,  and  was  satisfied  with  the  pleasure 
it  gave  me.  If  I  was  dull,  it  gave  me  little  concern :  if  I  was  lively, 
I  indulged  my  spirits.  I  wished  well  to  the  world,  and  believed  as 
favourably  of  it  as  I  could.  I  was  like  a  stranger  in  a  foreign  land, 
at  which  I  looked  with  wonder,  curiosity,  and  delight,  without  ex- 
pecting to  be  an  object  of  attention  in  return.  I  had  no  relations 
to  the  State,  no  duty  to  perform,  no  ties  to  bind  me  to  others :  I 
had  neither  friend  nor  mistress,  wife  nor  child.  I  lived  in  a  world 
of  contemplation,  and  not  of  action. 

This  sort  of  dreaming  existence  is  the  best.  He  who  quits  it  to 
go  in  search  of  realities  generally  barters  repose  for  repeated  dis- 
appointments and  vain  regrets.  His  time,  thoughts,  and  feelings 
are  no  longer  at  his  own  disposal.  From  that  instant  he  does  not 
survey  the  objects  of  nature  as  they  are  in  themselves,  but  looks 
asquint  at  them  to  see  whether  he  cannot  make  them  the  instru- 
ments of  his  ambition,  interest,  or  pleasure;  for  a  candid,  unde- 
signing,  undisguised  simplicity  of  character,  his  views  become 
jaundiced,  sinister,  and  double  :  he  takes  no  further  interest  in  the 
great  changes  of  the  world  but  as  he  has  a  paltry  share  in  produc- 
ing them  :  instead  of  opening  his  senses,  his  understanding,  and  his 


222         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

heart  to  the  resplendent  fabric  of  the  universe,  he  holds  a  crooked 
mirror  before  his  face,  in  which  he  may  admire  his  own  person  and 
pretensions,  and  just  glance  his  eye  aside  to  see  whether  others  are 
not  admiring  him  too.  He  no  more  exists  in  the  impression  which 
"  the  fair  variety  of  things  "  makes  upon  him,  softened  and  subdued 
by  habitual  contemplation,  but  in  the  feverish  sense  of  his  own 
upstart  self-importance.  By  aiming  to  fix,  he  is  become  the  slave  of 
opinion.  He  is  a  tool,  a  part  of  a  machine  that  never  stands  still, 
and  is  sick  and  giddy  with  the  ceaseless  motion.  He  has  no  satis- 
faction but  in  the  reflection  of  his  own  image  in  the  public  gaze — 
but  in  the  repetition  of  his  own  name  in  the  public  ear.  He  himself 
is  mixed  up  with  and  spoils  everything.  .  .  . 

I  have  seen  a  celebrated  talker  of  our  own  time  turn  pale  and  go 
out  of  the  room  when  a  showy-looking  girl  has  come  into  it,  who 
for  a  moment  divided  the  attention  of  his  hearers.  Infinite  are 
the  mortifications  of  the  bare  attempt  to  emerge  from  obscurity ; 
numberless  the  failures;  and  greater  and  more  galling  still  the 
vicissitudes  and  tormenting  accompaniments  of  success : 

"Whose  top  to  climb 

Is  certain  falling,  or  so  slippery,  that 
The  fear's  as  bad  as  falling. " 

"  Would  to  God,"  exclaimed  Oliver  Cromwell,  when  he  was  at  any 
time  thwarted  by  the  Parliament,  "that  I  had  remained  by  my 
woodside  to  tend  a  flock  of  sheep,  rather  than  have  been  thrust 
on  such  a  government  as  this!"  When  Buonaparte  got  into  his 
carriage  to  proceed  on  his  Russian  expedition,  carelessly  twirling 
his  glove  and  singing  the  air,  "Malbrook  to  the  war  is  going," 
he  did  not  think  of  the  tumble  he  has  got  since,  the  shock  of  which 
no  one  could  have  stood  but  himself.  We  see  and  hear  chiefly  of 
the  favourites  of  Fortune  and  the  Muse,  of  great  generals,  of  first- 
rate  actors,  of  celebrated  poets.  These  are  at  the  head ;  we  are 
struck  with  the  glittering  eminence  on  which  they  stand,  and  long 
to  set  out  on  the  same  tempting  career, — not  thinking  how  many 
discontented  half-pay  lieutenants  are  in  vain  seeking  promotion  all 
their  lives,  and  obliged  to  put  up  with  "  the  insolence  of  office,  and 
the  spurns  which  patient  merit  of  the  unworthy  takes ; "  how  many 
half-starved  strolling-players  are  doomed  to  penury  and  tattered 
robes  in  country  places,  dreaming  to  the  last  of  a  London  engage- 
ment ;  how  many  wretched  daubers  shiver  and  shake  in  the  ague-fit 
of  alternate  hopes  and  fears,  waste  and  pine  away  in  the  atrophy  of 
genius,  or  else  turn  drawing-masters,  picture-cleaners,  or  newspaper 
critics ;  how  many  hapless  poets  have  sighed  out  their  souls  to  the 


LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF.  223 

Muse  in  vain,  without  ever  getting  their  effusions  further  known 
than  the  Poet's  Corner  of  a  country  newspaper,  and  looked  and 
looked  with  grudging,  wistful  eyes  at  the  envious  horizon  that 
bounded  their  provincial  fame ! — Suppose  an  actor,  for  instance, 
"  after  the  heart-aches  and  the  thousand  natural  pangs  that  flesh  is 
heir  to,"  does  get  at  the  top  of  his  profession,  he  can  no  longer  bear 
a  rival  near  the  throne ;  to  be  second,  or  only  equal  to  another,  is  to 
be  nothing :  he  starts  at  the  prospect  of  a  successor,  and  retains  the 
mimic  sceptre  with  a  convulsive  grasp :  perhaps,  as  he  is  about  to  seize 
the  first  place  which  he  has  long  had  in  his  eye,  an  unsuspected 
competitor  steps  in  before  him  and  carries  off  the  prize,  leaving 
him  to  commence  his  irksome  toil  again.  He  is  in  a  state  of  alarm 
at  every  appearance  or  rumour  of  the  appearance  of  a  new  actor : 
"  a  mouse  that  takes  up  its  lodgings  in  a  cat's  ear  "  has  a  mansion 
of  peace  to  him :  he  dreads  every  hint  of  an  objection,  and  least  of 
all  can  forgive  praise  mingled  with  censure :  to  doubt  is  to  insult ; 
to  discriminate  is  to  degrade :  he  dare  hardly  look  into  a  criticism 
unless  some  one  has  tasted  it  for  him,  to  see  that  there  is  no  offence 
in  it :  if  he  does  not  draw  crowded  houses  every  night,  he  can 
neither  eat  nor  sleep ;  or  if  all  these  terrible  inflictions  are  removed, 
and  he  can  "  eat  his  meal  in  peace,"  he  then  becomes  surfeited  with 
applause  and  dissatisfied  with  his  profession :  he  wants  to  be  some- 
thing else,  to  be  distinguished  as  an  author,  a  collector,  a  classical 
scholar,  a  man  of  sense  and  information,  and  weighs  every  word  he 
utters,  and  half-retracts  it  before  he  utters  it,  lest  if  he  were  to 
make  the  smallest  slip  of  the  tongue,  it  should  get  buzzed  abroad 

that  Mr. was  only  clever  as  an  actor !    If  ever  there  was  a  man 

who  did  not  derive  more  pain  than  pleasure  from  his  vanity,  that 
man,  says  llousseau,  was  no  other  than  a  fool.  .  .  . 

Even  in  the  common  affairs  of  life,  in  love,  friendship,  and 
marriage,  how  little  security  have  we  when  we  trust  our  happiness 
in  the  hands  of  others !  Most  of  the  friends  I  have  seen  have 
turned  out  the  bitterest  enemies  or  cold,  uncomfortable  acquaint- 
ance. Old  companions  are  like  meats  served  up  too  often,  that  lose 
their  relish  and  their  wholesomeness.  He  who  looks  at  beauty  to 
admire,  to  adore  it,  who  reads  of  its  wondrous  power  in  novels,  in 
poems,  or  in  plays,  is  not  unwise ;  but  let  no  man  fall  in  love,  for 
from  that  moment  he  is  "  the  baby  of  a  girl."  I  like  very  well  to 
repeat  such  lines  as  these  in  the  play  of  "  Mirandola : " 

"  With  what  a  waving  air  she  goes 

Along  the  corridor  !    How  like  a  fawn  ! 

Yet  statelier.     Hark  !    No  sound,  however  soft, 

T 


224         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

Nor  gentlest  echo  telleth  when  she  treads, 
But  every  motion  of  her  shape  doth  seem 
Hallowed  by  silence." 

How  few  out  of  the  infinite  number  of  those  that  marry  and  are 
given  in  marriage  wed  with  those  they  would  prefer  to  all  the 
world !  Nay,  how  far  the  greater  proportion  are  joined  together  by 
mere  motives  of  convenience,  accident,  recommendation  of  friends, 
or  indeed  not  infrequently  by  the  very  fear  of  the  event,  by  re- 
pugnance and  a  sort  of  fatal  fascination !  Yet  the  tie  is  for  life, 
not  to  be  shaken  off  but  with  disgrace  or  death :  a  man  no  longer 
lives  to  himself,  but  is  a  body  (as  well  as  mind")  chained  to  another, 
in  spite  of  himself : 

"  Like  life  and  death  in  disproportion  met." 

If  love  at  first  sight  were  mutual,  or  to  be  conciliated  by  kind 
offices ;  if  the  fondest  affection  were  not  so  often  repaid  and  chilled 
by  indifference  and  scorn ;  if  so  many  lovers,  both  before  and  since 
the  madman  in  "Don  Quixote,"  had  not  "  worshipped  a  statue,  hunted 
the  wind,  cried  aloud  to  the  desert ; "  if  friendship  were  lasting ; 
if  merit  were  renown,  and  renown  were  health,  riches,  and  long 
life ;  or  if  the  homage  of  the  world  were  paid  to  conscious  worth 
and  the  true  aspirations  after  excellence,  instead  of  its  gaudy  signs 
and  outward  trappings ;  then,  indeed,  I  might  be  of  opinion  that 
it  is  better  to  live  to  others  than  one's  self ;  but  as  the  case  stands, 
1  incline  to  the  negative  side  of  the  question. 

"  I  have  not  loved  the  world,  nor  the  world  me  ; 
I  have  not  flattered  its  rank  breath,  nor  bow'd 
To  its  idolatries  a  patient  knee — 
Nor  coin'd  my  cheek  to  smiles — nor  cried  aloud 
In  worship  of  an  echo  ;  in  the  crowd 
They  could  not  deem  me  one  of  such ;  I  stood 
Among  them,  but  not  of  them  ;  in  a  shroud 
Of  thoughts  which  were  not  their  thoughts,  and  still  could, 
Had  I  not  filled  my  mind  which  thus  itself  subdued. 

I  have  not  loved  the  world,  nor  the  world  me — 

But  let  us  part  fair  foes  ;  I  do  believe, 

Though  I  have  found  them  not,  that  there  may  be 

Words  which  are  things — hopes  which  will  not  deceive, 

And  virtues  which  are  merciful  nor  weave 

Snares  for  the  failing  :  I  would  also  deem 

O'er  others'  griefs  that  some  sincerely  grieve  ; 

That  two,  or  one,  are  almost  what  they  seem — 

That  goodness  is  no  name,  and  happiness  no  dream." 

Sweet  verse  embalms  the  spirit  of  sour  misanthropy;  but  woe 


LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF.  225 

betide  the  ignoble  prose-writer  who  should  thus  dare  to  compare 
notes  with  the  world,  or  tax  it  roundly  with  imposture. 

If  I  had  sufficient  provocation  to  rail  at  the  public,  as  Ben  Jonson 
did  at  the  audience  in  the  Prologues  to  his  plays,  I  think  I  should 
do  it  in  good  set  terms,  nearly  as  follows : — There  is  not  a  more 
mean,  stupid,  dastardly,  pitiful,  selfish,  spiteful,  envious,  ungrateful 
animal  than  the  Public.  It  is  the  greatest  of  cowards,  for  it  is 
afraid  of  itself.  From  its  unwieldly,  overgrown  dimensions,  it 
dreads  the  least  opposition  to  it,  and  shakes  like  isinglass  at  the 
touch  of  a  finger.  It  starts  at  its  own  shadow,  like  the  man  in  the 
Hartz  mountains,  and  trembles  at  the  mention  of  its  own  name. 
It  has  a  lion's  mouth,  the  heart  of  a  hare,  with  ears  erect  and  sleep- 
less eyes.  It  stands  "  listening  its  fears."  It  is  so  in  awe  of  its 
own  opinion,  that  it  never  dares  to  form  any,  but  catches  up  the 
first  idle  rumour,  lest  it  should  be  behindhand  in  its  judgment,  and 
echoes  it  till  it  is  deafened  with  the  sound  of  its  own  voice.  The 
idea  of  what  the  public  will  think  prevents  the  public  from  ever 
thinking  at  all,  and  acts  as  a  spell  on  the  exercise  of  private  judg- 
ment ;  so  that,  in  short,  the  public  ear  is  at  the  mercy  of  the  first 
impudent  pretender  who  chooses  to  fill  it  with  noisy  assertions,  or 
false  surmises,  or  secret  whispers.  What  is  said  by  one  is  heard 
by  all ;  the  supposition  that  a  thing  is  known  to  all  the  world 
makes  all  the  world  believe  it,  and  the  hollow  repetition  of  a  vague 
report  drowns  the  "still,  small  voice"  of  reason.  We  may  believe  or 
know  that  what  is  said  is  not  true;  but  we  know  or  fancy  that 
others  believe  it — we  dare  not  contradict  or  are  too  indolent  to 
dispute  with  them,  and  therefore  give  up  our  internal,  and,  as  we 
think,  our  solitary  conviction  to  a  sound  without  substance,  with- 
out proof,  and  often  without  meaning.  Nay,  more ;  we  may  believe 
and  know  not  only  that  a  thing  is  false,  but  that  others  believe 
and  know  it  to  be  so,  that  they  are  quite  as  much  in  the  secret  of 
the  imposture  as  we  are,  that  they  see  the  puppets  at  work,  the 
nature  of  the  machinery,  and  yet  if  any  one  has  the  art  or  power 
to  get  the  management  of  it,  he  shall  keep  possession  of  the  public 
ear  by  virtue  of  a  cant  phrase  or  nickname,  and  by  dint  of  effrontery 
and  perseverance  make  all  the  world  believe  and  repeat  what  all 
the  world  know  to  be  false.  The  ear  is  quicker  than  the  judgment. 
We  know  that  certain  things  are  said ;  by  that  circumstance  alone 
we  know  that  they  produce  a  certain  effect  on  the  imagination  of 
others,  and  we  conform  to  their  prejudices  by  mechanical  sympathy, 
and  for  want  of  sufficient  spirit  to  differ  with  them.  So  far,  then, 
is  public  opinion  from  resting  on  a  broad  and  solid  basis,  as  the 
aggregate  of  thought  and  feeling  in  a  community,  that  it  is  slight 


226         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

and  shallow  and  variable  to  the  last  degree — the  bubble  of  the 
moment ;  so  that  we  may  safely  say  the  public  is  the  dupe  of  public 
opinion,  not  its  parent.  The  public  is  pusillanimous  and  cowardly, 
because  it  is  weak.  It  knows  itself  to  be  a  great  dunce,  and  that 
it  has  no  opinions  but  upon  suggestion.  Yet  it  is  unwilling  to 
appear  in  leading-strings,  and  would  have  it  thought  that  its 
decisions  are  as  wise  as  they  are  weighty.  It  is  hasty  in  taking 
up  its  favourites,  more  hasty  in  laying  them  aside,  lest  it  should 
be  supposed  deficient  in  sagacity  in  either  case.  It  is  generally 
divided  into  two  strong  parties,  each  of  which  will  allow  neither 
common-sense  nor  common  honesty  to  the  other  side.  It  reads 
the  Edinburgh  and  Quarterly  Reviews,  and  believes  them  both — or 
if  there  is  a  doubt,  malice  turns  the  scale.  Taylor  and  Hessey  told 
me  that  they  had  sold  nearly  two  editions  of  the  "  Characters  of 
Shakspeare's  Plays"  in  about  three  months,  but  that  after  the 
Quarterly  review  of  them  came  out  they  never  sold  another  copy. 
The  public,  enlightened  as  they  are,  must  have  known  the  meaning 
of  that  attack  as  well  as  those  who  made  it.  It  was  not  ignorance 
then,  but  cowardice,  that  led  them  to  give  up  their  own  opinion. 
A  crew  of  mischievous  critics  at  Edinburgh  having  affixed  the 
epithet  of  the  Cockney  School  to  one  or  two  writers  born  in  the 
metropolis,  all  the  people  in  London  became  afraid  of  looking  into 
their  works,  lest  they  too  should  be  convicted  of  cockneyism.  Oh, 
brave  public !  .  .  . 

The  public  is  as  envious  and  ungrateful  as  it  is  ignorant,  stupid, 
and  pigeon-livered : 

"  A  huge-sized  monster  of  ingratitudes." 

It  reads,  it  admires,  it  extols,  only  because  it  is  the  fashion,  not 
from  any  love  of  the  subject  or  the  man.  It  cries  you  up  or  runs 
you  down  out  of  mere  caprice  and  levity.  If  you  have  pleased  it, 
it  is  jealous  of  its  own  involuntary  acknowledgment  of  merit,  and 
seizes  the  first  opportunity,  the  first  shabby  pretext,  to  pick  a 
quarrel  with  you  and  be  quits  once  more.  Every  petty  caviller  is 
erected  into  a  judge,  every  tale-bearer  is  implicitly  believed.  Every 
little  low  paltry  creature  that  gaped  and  wondered  only  because 
others  did  so  is  glad  to  find  you  (as  he  thinks)  on  a  level  with  him- 
self. An  author  is  not  then,  after  all,  a  being  of  another  order. 
Public  admiration  is  forced,  and  goes  against  the  grain.  Public 
obloquy  is  cordial  and  sincere :  every  individual  feels  his  own  im- 
portance in  it.  They  give  you  up  bound  hand  and  foot  into  the 
power  of  your  accusers.  To  attempt  to  defend  yourself  is  a  high 
crime  and  misdemeanour,  a  contempt  of  court,  an  extreme  piece  of 


LIVING  TO  ONE'S  SELF.  227 

impertinence.  Or  if  you  prove  every  charge  unfounded,  they  never 
think  of  retracing  their  error  or  making  you  amends.  It  would 
be  a  compromise  of  their  dignity ;  they  consider  themselves  as  the 
party  injured,  and  resent  your  innocence  as  an  imputation  on  their 
judgment.  The  celebrated  Bub  Doddington,  when  out  of  favour  at 
Court,  said  "  he  would  not  justify  before  his  sovereign :  it  was  for 
Majesty  to  be  displeased,  and  for  him  to  believe  himself  in  the 
wrong ! "  The  public  are  not  quite  so  modest.  People  already  begin 
to  talk  of  the  Scotch  Novels  as  overrated.  How,  then,  can  common 
authors  be  supposed  to  keep  their  heads  long  above  water  ?  As  a 
general  rule,  all  those  who  live  by  the  public  starve,  and  are  made 
a  by-word  and  a  standing  jest  into  the  bargain.  Posterity  is  no 
better  (not  a  bit  more  enlightened  or  more  liberal),  except  that  you 
are  no  longer  in  their  power,  and  that  the  voice  of  common  fame 
saves  them  the  trouble  of  deciding  on  your  claims.  The  public  now 
are  the  posterity  of  Milton  and  Shakspeare.  Our  posterity  will  be 
the  living  public  of  a  future  generation.  When  a  man  is  dead  they 
put  money  in  his  coffin,  erect  monuments  to  his  memory,  and  cele- 
brate the  anniversary  of  his  birthday  in  set  speeches.  Would  they 
take  any  notice  of  him  if  he  were  living  ?  No ! — I  was  complain- 
ing of  this  to  a  Scotchman  who  had  been  attending  a  dinner  and 
a  subscription  to  raise  a  monument  to  Burns.  He  replied  he 
would  sooner  subscribe  twenty  pounds  to  his  monument  than  have 
given  it  him  while  living ;  so  that  if  the  poet  were  to  come  to  life 
again,  he  would  treat  him  just  as  he  was  treated  in  fact.  This  was 
an  honest  Scotchman.  What  he  said,  the  rest  would  do. 

Enough  :  my  soul,  turn  from  them,  and  let  me  try  to  regain  the 
obscurity  and  quiet  that  I  love,  "  far  from  the  madding  strife,"  in 
some  sequestered  corner  of  my  own,  or  in  some  far-distant  land  ! 
In  the  latter  case,  I  might  carry  with  me  as  a  consolation  the  pas- 
sage in  Bolingbroke's  "  Reflections  on  Exile  "  in  which  he  describes 
in  glowing  colours  the  resources  which  a  man  may  always  find  within 
himself,  and  of  which  the  world  cannot  deprive  him  : — 

"  Believe  me,  the  providence  of  God  has  established  such  an 
order  in  the  world,  that  of  all  which  belongs  to  us,  the  least  valuable 
parts  can  alone  fall  under  the  will  of  others.  Whatever  is  best  is 
safest ;  lies  out  of  the  reach  of  human  power  ;  can  neither  be  given 
nor  taken  away.  Such  is  this  great  and  beautiful  work  of  nature, 
the  world.  Such  is  the  mind  of  man,  which  contemplates  and  ad- 
mires the  world  whereof  it  makes  the  noblest  part.  These  are  in- 
separably ours,  and  as  long  as  we  remain  in  one,  we  shall  enjoy  the 
other.  Let  us  march,  therefore,  intrepidly  wherever  we  are  led  by 
the  course  of  human  accidents.  Wherever  they  lead  us,  on  what 


228        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

coast  soever  we  are  thrown  by  them,  we  shall  not  find  ourselves 
absolutely  strangers.  We  shall  feel  the  same  revolution  of  seasons, 
and  the  same  sun  and  moon  will  guide  the  course  of  our  year.  The 
same  azure  vault,  bespangled  with  stars,  will  be  everywhere  spread 
over  our  heads.  There  is  no  part  of  the  world  from  whence  we  may 
not  admire  those  planets  which  roll,  like  ours,  in  different  orbits 
round  the  same  central  sun  ;  from  whence  we  may  not  discover  an 
object  still  more  stupendous,  that  army  of  fixed  stars  hung  up  in 
the  immense  space  of  the  universe,  innumerable  suns  whose  beams 
enlighten  and  cherish  the  unknown  world  which  roll  around  them ; 
and  whilst  I  am  ravished  by  such  contemplations  as  these,  whilst 
my  soul  is  thus  raised  up  to  heaven,  it  imports  me  little  what 
ground  I  tread  upon."  .  .  . 


ON  THOUGHT  AND  ACTION. 

...  IF  there  is  a  propensity  in  the  vulgar  to  admire  the  achieve- 
ments of  personal  prowess  or  instances  of  fortunate  enterprise  too 
much,  it  cannot  be  denied  that  those  who  have  to  weigh  out  and  dis- 
pense the  meed  of  fame  in  books  have  been  too  much  disposed,  by 
a  natural  bias,  to  confine  all  merit  and  talent  to  the  productions  of 
the  pen,  or  at  least  to  those  works  which,  being  artificial  or  abstract 
representations  of  things,  are  transmitted  to  posterity  and  cried  up 
as  models  in  their  kind.  This,  though  unavoidable,  is  hardly  just. 
Actions  pass  away  and  are  forgotten,  or  are  only  discernible  in  their 
effects:  conquerors,  statesmen,  and  kings  live  but  by  their  names 
stamped  on  the  page  of  history.  Hume  says  rightly  that  more 
people  think  about  Virgil  and  Homer  (and  that  continually)  than 
ever  trouble  their  heads  about  Csesar  or  Alexander.  In  fact,  poets 
are  a  longer-lived  race  than  heroes :  they  breathe  more  of  the  air 
of  immortality.  They  survive  more  entire  in  their  thoughts  and 
acts.  We  have  all  that  Virgil  or  Homer  did,  as  much  as  if  we  had 
lived  at  the  same  time  with  them :  we  can  hold  their  works  in  our 
hands,  or  lay  them  on  our  pillows,  or  put  them  to  our  lips.  Scarcely 
a  trace  of  what  the  others  did  is  left  upon  the  earth,  so  as  to  be 
visible  to  common  eyes.  The  one,  the  dead  authors,  are  living  men, 
still  breathing  and  moving  in  their  writings ;  the  others,  the  con- 
querors of  the  world,  are  but  the  ashes  in  an  urn.  The  sympathy 
(so  to  speak)  between  thought  and  thought  is  more  intimate  and 
vital  than  that  between  thought  and  action.  Thought  is  linked  to 
thought  as  flame  kindles  into  flame :  the  tribute  of  admiration  to 
the  manes  of  departed  heroism  is  like  burning  incense  in  a  marble 


VULGARITY  AND  AFFECTATION.  229 

monument.  Words,  ideas,  feelings,  with  the  progress  of  time  harden 
into  substances :  things,  bodies,  actions,  moulder  away  or  melt  into 
a  sound,  into  thin  air ! — Yet  though  the  Schoolmen  in  the  Middle 
Ages  disputed  more  about  the  texts  of  Aristotle  than  the  battle  of 
Arbela,  perhaps  Alexander's  generals  in  his  lifetime  admired  his 
pupil  as  much  and  liked  him  better.  For  not  only  a  man's  actions 
are  effaced  and  vanish  with  him ;  his  virtues  and  generous  qualities 
die  with  him  also : — his  intellect  only  is  immortal  and  bequeathed 
unimpaired  to  posterity.  Words  are  the  only  things  that  last  for 
ever.  .  .  . 


ON  VULGARITY  AND  AFFECTATION. 

FEW  subjects  are  more  nearly  allied  than  these  two — vulgarity  and 
affectation.  It  may  be  said  of  them  truly  that  "  thin  partitions  do 
their  bounds  divide."  There  cannot  be  a  surer  proof  of  a  low  origin 
or  of  an  innate  meanness  of  disposition  than  to  be  always  talking 
and  thinking  of  being  genteel.  One  must  feel  a  strong  tendency  to 
that  which  one  is  always  trying  to  avoid ;  whenever  we  pretend,  on 
all  occasions,  a  mighty  contempt  for  anything,  it  is  a  pretty  clear 
sign  that  we  feel  ourselves  very  nearly  on  a  level  with  it.  Of  the 
two  classes  of  people,  I  hardly  know  which  is  to  be  regarded  with 
most  distaste,  the  vulgar  aping  the  genteel,  or  the  genteel  constantly 
sneering  at  and  endeavouring  to  distinguish  themselves  from  the 
vulgar.  These  two  sets  of  persons  are  always  thinking  of  one 
another ;  the  lower  of  the  higher  with  envy,  the  more  fortunate  of 
their  less  happy  neighbours  with  contempt.  They  are  habitually 
placed  in  opposition  to  each  other ;  jostle  in  their  pretensions  at 
every  turn ;  and  the  same  objects  and  train  of  thought  (only  re- 
versed by  the  relative  situation  of  either  party)  occupy  their  whole 
time  and  attention.  The  one  are  straining  every  nerve  and  out- 
raging common-sense,  to  be  thought  genteel ;  the  others  have  no 
other  object  or  idea  in  their  heads  than  not  to  be  thought  vulgar. 
This  is  but  poor  spite, 'a  very  pitiful  style  of  ambition.  To  be 
merely  not  that  which  one  heartily  despises  is  a  very  humble  claim 
to  superiority ;  to  despise  what  one  really  is,  is  still  worse. 

Gentility  is  only  a  more  select  and  artificial  kind  of  vulgarity. 
It  cannot  exist  but  by  a  sort  of  borrowed  distinction.  It  plumes 
itself  up  and  revels  in  the  homely  pretensions  of  the  mass  of  man- 
kind. It  judges  of  the  worth  of  everything  by  name,  fashion,  and 
opinion ;  and  hence,  from  the  conscious  absence  of  real  qualities  or 
sincere  satisfaction  in  itself,  it  builds  its  supercilious  and  fantastic 


230        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

conceit  on  the  wretchedness  and  wants  of  others.  Violent  anti- 
pathies are  always  suspicious,  and  betray  a  secret  affinity.  The 
difference  between  the  "  Great  Vulgar  and  the  Small  "  is  mostly  in 
outward  circumstances.  The  coxcomb  criticises  the  dress  of  the 
clown,  as  the  pedant  cavils  at  the  bad  gramma?  of  the  illiterate, 
or  the  prude  is  shocked  at  the  backslidings  of  her  frail  acquaintance. 
Those  who  have  the  fewest  resources  in  themselves  naturally  seek 
the  food  of  their  self-love  elsewhere.  The  most  ignorant  people 
find  most  to  laugh  at  in  strangers ;  scandal  and  satire  prevail  most 
in  country  places ;  and  a  propensity  to  ridicule  every  the  slightest 
or  most  palpable  deviation  from  what  we  happen  to  approve,  ceases 
with  the  progress  of  common-sense  and  decency.  True  worth  does 
not  exult  in  the  faults  and  deficiencies  of  others,  as  true  refine- 
ment turns  away  from  grossness  and  deformity,  instead  of  being 
tempted  to  indulge  in  an  unmanly  triumph  over  it.  Raphael  would 
not  faint  away  at  the  daubing  of  a  signpost,  nor  Homer  hold  his 
head  the  higher  for  being  in  the  company  of  a  Grub  Street  bard. 
Real  power,  real  excellence,  does  not  seek  for  a  foil  in  inferiority, 
nor  fear  contamination  from  coming  in  contact  with  that  which  is 
coarse  and  homely.  It  reposes  on  itself,  and  is  equally  free  from 
spleen  and  affectation.  But  the  spirit  of  gentility  is  the  mere  essence 
of  spleen  and  affectation ; — of  affected  delight  in  its  own  would-be 
qualifications,  and  of  ineffable  disdain  poured  out  upon  the  involun- 
tary blunders  or  accidental  disadvantages  of  those  whom  it  chooses 
to  treat  as  its  inferiors.  .  .  . 

Now,  the  essence  of  vulgarity,  I  imagine,  consists  in  taking 
manners,  actions,  words,  opinions,  on  trust  from  others,  without 
examining  one's  own  feelings  or  weighing  the  merits  of  the  case. 
It  is  coarseness  or  shallowness  of  taste  arising  from  want  of  indi- 
vidual refinement,  together  with  the  confidence  and  presumption 
inspired  by  example  and  numbers.  It  may  be  defined  to  be  a  prosti- 
tution of  the  mind  or  body  to  ape  the  more  or  less  obvious  defects 
of  others,  because  by  so  doing  we  shall  secure  the  suffrages  of  those 
we  associate  with.  To  affect  a  gesture,  an  opinion,  a  phrase,  because 
it  is  the  rage  with  a  large  number  of  persons,  or  to  hold  it  in  abhor- 
rence because  another  set  of  persons  very  little,  if  at  all,  better 
informed  cry  it  down  to  distinguish  themselves  from  the  former,  is 
in  either  case  equal  vulgarity  and  absurdity. — A  thing  is  not  vulgar 
merely  because  it  is  common.  'Tis  common  to  breathe,  to  see,  to 
feel,  to  live.  Nothing  is  vulgar  that  is  natural,  spontaneous,  un- 
avoidable. Grossness  is  not  vulgarity,  ignorance  is  not  vulgarity, 
awkwardness  is  not  vulgarity;  but  all  these  become  vulgar  when 
they  are  affected  and  shown  off  on  the  authority  of  others,  or  to  fall 


VULGARITY  AND  AFFECTATION.  231 

in  with  the  fashion  or  the  company  we  keep.  Caliban  is  coarse 
enough,  but  surely  he  is  not  vulgar.  We  might  as  well  spurn  the 
clod  under  our  feet,  and  call  it  vulgar.  Cobbett  is  coarse  enough, 
but  he  is  not  vulgar.  He  does  not  belong  to  the  herd.  Nothing 
real,  nothing  original,  can  be  vulgar ;  but  I  should  think  an  imitator 
of  Cobbett  a  vulgar  man.  .  .  . 

There  is  a  well-dressed  and  an  ill-dressed  mob,  both  which  I  hate. 
Odi  profanum  vulgus,  et  arceo.  The  vapid  affectation  of  the  one  to 
me  is  even  more  intolerable  than  the  gross  insolence  and  brutality 
of  the  other.  If  a  set  of  low-lived  fellows  are  noisy,  rude,  and 
boisterous  to  show  their  disregard  of  the  company,  a  set  of  fashion- 
able coxcombs  are,  to  a  nauseous  degree,  finical  and  effeminate  to 
show  their  thorough  breeding.  The  one  are  governed  by  their  feel- 
ings, however  coarse  and  misguided,  which  is  something ;  the  others 
consult  only  appearances,  which  are  nothing,  either  as  a  test  of 
happiness  or  virtue.  Hogarth  in  his  prints  has  trimmed  the  balance 
of  pretension  between  the  downright  blackguard  and  the  soi-disant 
fine  gentleman  unanswerably.  It  does  not  appear  in  his  moral 
demonstrations  (whatever  it  may  do  in  the  genteel  letter-writing 
of  Lord  Chesterfield  or  the  chivalrous  rhapsodies  of  Burke)  that 
vice  by  losing  all  its  grossness  loses  half  its  evil.  It  becomes  more 
contemptible,  not  less  disgusting.  What  is  there  in  common,  for 
instance,  between  his  beaux  and  belles,  his  rakes  and  his  coquets, 
and  the  men  and  women,  the  true  heroic  and  ideal  characters  in 
Raphael  ?  But  his  people  of  fashion  and  quality  are  just  upon  a 
par  with  the  low,  the  selfish,  the  unideal  characters  in  the  con- 
trasted view  of  human  life,  and  are  often  the  very  same  characters, 
only  changing  places.  If  the  lower  ranks  are  actuated  by  envy  and 
uncharitableness  towards  the  upper,  the  latter  have  scarcely  any 
feelings  but  of  pride,  contempt,  and  aversion  to  the  lower.  If  the 
poor  would  pull  down  the  rich  to  get  at  their  good  things,  the  rich 
would  tread  down  the  poor  as  in  a  wine-press,  and  squeeze  the  last 
shilling  out  of  their  pockets  and  the  last  drop  of  blood  out  of  their 
veins.  If  the  headstrong  self-will  and  unruly  turbulence  of  a 
common  alehouse  are  shocking,  what  shall  we  say  to  the  studied 
insincerity,  the  insipid  want  of  common-sense,  the  callous  insensi- 
bility of  the  drawing-room  and  boudoir  ?  I  would  rather  see  the 
feelings  of  our  common  nature  (for  they  are  the  same  at  bottom) 
expressed  in  the  most  naked  and  unqualified  way,  than  see  every 
feeling  of  our  nature  suppressed,  stifled,  hermetically  sealed  under 
the  smooth,  cold,  glittering  varnish  of  pretended  refinement  and 
conventional  politeness.  The  one  may  be  corrected  by  being  better 
informed;  the  other  is  incorrigible,  wilful,  heartless  depravity.  I 


232         WILLIAM  HAZLITf— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

cannot  describe  the  contempt  and  disgust  I  have  felt  at  the  tone  of 
what  would  be  thought  good  company  when  I  have  witnessed  the 
sleek,  smiling,  glossy,  gratuitous  assumption  of  superiority  to  every 
feeling  of  humanity,  honesty,  or  principle,  as  a  part  of  the  etiquette, 
the  mental  and  moral  costume  of  the  table,  and  every  profession  of 
toleration  or  favour  for  the  lower  orders,  that  is,  for  the  great  mass 
of  our  fellow-creatures,  treated  as  an  indecorum  and  breach  of  the 
harmony  of  well-regulated  society.  .  .  . 


ON  GOING  A  JOURNEY. 

ONE  of  the  pleasantest  things  in  the  world  is  going  a  journey ;  but 
I  like  to  go  by  myself.  I  can  enjoy  society  in  a  room ;  but  out  of 
doors  nature  is  company  enough  for  me.  I  am  then  never  less 
alone  than  when  alone. 

"  The  fields  his  study,  nature  was  his  book." 

I  cannot  see  the  wit  of  walking  and  talking  at  the  same  time. 
When  I  am  in  the  country,  I  wish  to  vegetate  like  the  country. 
I  am  not  for  criticising  hedgerows  and  black  cattle.  I  go  out  of 
town  in  order  to  forget  the  town  and  all  that  is  in  it.  There  are 
those  who  for  this  purpose  go  to  watering-places,  and  carry  the 
metropolis  with  them.  I  like  more  elbow-room,  and  fewer  encum- 
brances. I  like  solitude,  when  I  give  myself  up  to  it,  for  the  sake 
of  solitude ;  nor  do  I  ask  for 

"  a  friend  in  my  retreat, 

Whom  I  may  whisper  solitude  is  sweet." 

The  soul  of  a  journey  is  liberty,  perfect  liberty,  to  think,  feel,  do, 
just  as  one  pleases.  We  go  a  journey  chiefly  to  be  free  of  all 
impediments  and  of  all  inconveniences ;  to  leave  ourselves  behind, 
much  more  to  get  rid  of  others.  It  is  because  I  want  a  little  breath- 
ing-space to  muse  on  indifferent  matters,  where  Contemplation 

"  May  plume  her  feathers  and  let  grow  her  wings, 
That  in  the  various  bustle  of  resort 
Were  all  too  ruffled,  and  sometimes  impair'd," 

that  I  absent  myself  from  the  town  for  a  while,  without  feeling  at 
a  loss  the  moment  I  am  left  by  myself.  Instead  of  a  friend  in  a 
post-chaise  or  in  a  Tilbury,  to  exchange  good  things  with  and  vary 
the  same  stale  topics  over  again,  for  once  let  me  have  a  truce  with 
impertinence.  Give  me  the  clear  blue  sky  over  my  head  and  the 
green  turf  beneath  my  feet,  a  winding  road  before  me,  and  a  three 


ON  GOING  A  JOURNEY.  233 

hours'  march  to  dinner — and  then  to  thinking!  It  is  hard  if  I 
cannot  start  some  game  on  these  lone  heaths.  I  latigh,  I  run,  I 
leap,  I  sing  for  joy.  From  the  point  of  yonder  rolling  cloud,  I 
plunge  into  my  past  being,  and  revel  there,  as  the  sunburnt  Indian 
plunges  headlong  into  the  wave  that  wafts  him  to  his  native 
shore.  Then  long-forgotten  things,  like  "sunken  wrack  and  sumless 
treasuries,"  burst  upon  my  eager  sight,  and  I  begin  to  feel,  think, 
and  be  myself  again.  Instead  of  an  awkward  silence,  broken  by 
attempts  at  wit  or  dull  commonplaces,  mine  is  that  undisturbed 
silence  of  the  heart  which  alone  is  perfect  eloquence.  No  one  likes 
puns,  alliterations,  antitheses,  argument,  and  analysis  better  than 
I  do ;  but  I  sometimes  had  rather  be  without  them.  "  Leave,  oh, 
leave  me  to  my  repose !  "  I  have  just  now  other  business  in  hand, 
which  would  seem  idle  to  you,  but  is  with  me  "  very  stuff  o'  the 
conscience."  Is  not  this  wild  rose  sweet  without  a  comment  ?  Does 
not  this  daisy  leap  to  my  heart  set  in  its  coat  of  emerald  ?  Yet  if 
I  were  to  explain  to  you  the  circumstance  that  has  so  endeared 
it  to  me,  you  would  only  smile.  Had  I  not  better,  then,  keep  it 
to  myself,  and  let  it  serve  me  to  brood  over,  from  here  to  yonder 
craggy  point,  and  from  thence  onward  to  the  far-distant  horizon  ? 
I  should  be  but  bad  company  all  that  way,  and  therefore  prefer  being 
alone.  I  have  heard  it  said  that  you  may,  when  the  moody  fit  comes 
on,  walk  or  ride  on  by  yourself,  and  indulge  your  reveries.  But  this 
looks  like  a  breach  of  manners,  a  neglect  of  others,  and  you  are 
thinking  all  the  time  that  you  ought  to  rejoin  your  party.  "  Out 
upon  such  half-faced  fellowship ! "  say  I.  I  like  to  be  either  entirely 
to  myself  or  entirely  at  the  disposal  of  others  ;  to  talk  or  be  silent, 
to  walk  or  sit  still,  to  be  sociable  or  solitary.  I  was  pleased  with  an 
observation  of  Mr.  Cobbett's,  that  "he  thought  it  a  bad  French 
custom  to  drink  our  wine  with  our  meals,  and  that  an  Englishman 
ought  to  do  only  one  thing  at  a  time."  So  I  cannot  talk  and  think, 
or  indulge  in  melancholy  musing  and  lively  conversation,  by  fits  and 
starts.  "  Let  me  have  a  companion  of  my  way,"  says  Sterne,  "  were 
it  but  to  remark  how  the  shadows  lengthen  as  the  sun  declines." 
It  is  beautifully  said ;  but,  in  my  opinion,  this  continual  comparing 
of  notes  interferes  with  the  involuntary  impression  of  things  upon 
the  mind,  and  hurts  the  sentiment.  If  you  only  hint  what  you  feel 
in  a  kind  of  dumb  show,  it  is  insipid :  if  you  have  to  explain  it,  it  is 
making  a  toil  of  a  pleasure.  You  cannot  read  the  book  of  nature 
without  being  perpetually  put  to  the  trouble  of  translating  it  for  the 
benefit  of  others.  I  am  for  this  synthetical  method  on  a  journey 
in  preference  to  the  analytical.  I  am  content  to  lay  in  a  stock  of 
ideas  then,  and  to  examine  and  anatomise  them  afterwards.  I  want 


234        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

to  see  my  vague  notions  float  like  the  down  of  the  thistle  before  the 
breeze,  and  not  to  have  them  entangled  in  the  briars  and  thorns  of 
controversy.  For  once,  I  like  to  have  it  all  my  own  way ;  and  this 
is  impossible  unless  you  are  alone,  or  in  such  company  as  I  do  not 
covet.  I  have  no  objection  to  twenty  miles  of  measured  road,  but 
not  for  pleasure.  If  you  remark  the  scent  of  a  bean-field  crossing 
the  road,  perhaps  your  fellow-traveller  has  no  smell.  If  you  point 
to  a  distant  object,  perhaps  he  is  short-sighted,  and  has  to  take  out 
his  glass  to  look  at  it.  There  is  a  feeling  in  the  air,  a  tone  in  the 
colour  of  a  cloud,  which  hits  your  fancy,  but  the  effect  of  wliich  you 
are  unable  to  account  for.  There  is  then  no  sympathy,  but  an  un- 
easy craving  after  it,  and  a  dissatisfaction  which  pursues  you  on  the 
way,  and  in  the  end  probably  produces  ill-humour.  Now,  I  never 
quarrel  with  myself,  and  take  all  my  own  conclusions  for  granted 
till  I  find  it  necessary  to  defend  them  against  objections.  It  is  not 
merely  that  you  may  not  be  of  accord  on  the  objects  and  circum- 
stances that  present  themselves  before  you — these  may  recall  a 
number  of  objects,  and  lead  to  associations  too  delicate  and  refined 
to  be  possibly  communicated  to  others.  Yet  these  I  love  to  cherish, 
and  sometimes  still  fondly  clutch  them,  when  I  can  escape  from  the 
throng  to  do  so.  To  give  way  to  our  feelings  before  company  seems 
extravagance  or  affectation ;  and,  on  the  other  hand,  to  have  to 
unravel  this  mystery  of  our  being  at  every  turn,  and  to  make  others 
take  an  equal  interest  in  it  (otherwise  the  end  is  not  answered),  is 
a  task  to  which  few  are  competent.  We  must  "  give  it  an  under- 
standing, but  no  tongue."  My  old  friend  Coleridge,  however,  could 
do  both.  He  could  go  on  in  the  most  delightful  explanatory  way 
over  hill  and  dale  a  summer's  day,  and  convert  a  landscape  into  a 
didactic  poem  or  a  Pindaric  ode.  "  He  talked  far  above  singing." 
If  I  could  so  clothe  my  ideas  in  sounding  and  flowing  words,  I  might 
perhaps  wish  to  have  some  one  with  me  to  admire  the  swelling 
theme  ;  or  I  could  be  more  content,  were  it  possible  for  me  still  to 
hear  his  echoing  voice  in  the  woods  of  All-Foxden.  They  had  "  that 
fine  madness  in  them  which  our  first  poets  had;  "  and  if  they  could 
have  been  caught  by  some  rare  instrument,  would  have  breathed 
such  strains  as  the  following : — 

-"  Here  be  woods  as  green 


As  any,  air  likewise  as  fresh  and  sweet 
As  when  smooth  Zephyrus  plays  on  the  fleet 
Face  of  the  curled  streams,  with  flow'rs  as  many 
As  the  young  spring  gives,  and  as  choice  as  any  ; 
Here  be  all  new  delights,  cool  streams  and  wells, 
Arbours  o'ergrown  with  woodbines,  caves  and  dells  ; 


ON  GOING  A  JOURNEY.  235 

Choose  where  thou  wilt,  whilst  I  sit  by  and  sing, 
Or  gather  rushes  to  make  many  a  ring 
For  thy  long  fingers  ;  tell  thee  tales  of  love, 
How  the  pale  Phoubo,  hunting  in  a  grove, 
First  saw  the  boy  Endymion,  from  whoso  eyes 
She  took  eternal  fire  that  never  dies  ; 
How  she  convey'd  him  softly  in  a  sleep, 
His  temples  bound  with  poppy,  to  the  steep 
Head  of  old  Latmos,  where  she  stoops  each  night, 
Gilding  the  mountain  with  her  brother's  light, 
To  kiss  her  sweetest."  1 

Had  I  words  and  images  at  command  like  these,  I  would  attempt 
to  wake  the  thoughts  that  lie  slumbering  on  golden  ridges  in  tho 
evening  clouds ;  but  at  the  sight  of  nature  my  fancy,  poor  as  it  is, 
droops  and  closes  up  its  leaves,  like  flowers  at  sunset.  I  can  mako 
nothing  out  on  the  spot : — I  must  have  time  to  collect  myself. 

In  general,  a  good  thing  spoils  out-of-door  prospects :  it  should 
be  reserved  for  Table-talk.  Lamb  is  for  this  reason,  I  take  it,  tho 
worst  company  in  the  world  out  of  doors ;  because  he  is  the  best 
within.  I  grant  there  is  one  subject  on  which  it  is  pleasant  to  talk 
on  a  journey,  and  that  is,  what  one  shall  have  for  supper  when  we 
get  to  our  inn  at  night.  The  open  air  improves  this  sort  of  conver- 
sation or  friendly  altercation,  by  setting  a  keener  edge  on  appetite. 
Every  mile  of  the  road  heightens  the  flavour  of  the  viands  we  expect 
at  the  end  of  it.  How  fine  it  is  to  enter  some  old  town,  walled  and 
turreted,  just  at  approach  of  nightfall,  or  to  come  to  some  straggling 
village,  with  the  lights  streaming  through  the  surrounding  gloom ; 
and  then  after  inquiring  for  the  best  entertainment  that  the  place 
affords,  to  "  take  one's  ease  at  one's  inn ! "  These  eventful  moments 
in  our  lives'  history  are  too  precious,  too  full  of  solid,  heartfelt  hap- 
piness, to  be  frittered  and  dribbled  away  in  imperfect  sympathy. 
I  would  have  them  all  to  myself,  and  drain  them  to  the  last  drop : 
they  will  do  to  talk  of  or  to  write  about  afterwards.  What  a  deli- 
cate speculation  it  is,  after  drinking  whole  goblets  of  tea, 

"  The  cups  that  cheer,  but  not  inebriate," 

and  letting  the  fumes  ascend  into  the  brain,  to  sit  considering  what 
we  shall  have  for  supper — eggs  and  a  rasher,  a  rabbit  smothered  in 
onions,  or  an  excellent  veal-cutlet !  Sancho  in  such  a  situation  once 
fixed  on  cow-heel ;  and  his  choice,  though  ho  could  not  help  it,  is 
not  to  be  disparaged.  Then,  in  the  intervals  of  pictured  scenery 
and  Shandean  contemplation,  to  catch  the  preparation  and  the  stir 
in  the  kitchen  (getting  ready  for  the  gentleman  in  tho  parlour). 

1  Fletcher's  "  Faithful  Shepherdess." 


236        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

Procul,  0  procul  este  profani !  These  hours  are  sacred  to  silence  and 
to  musing,  to  be  treasured  up  in  the  memory,  and  to  feed  the  source 
of  smiling  thoughts  hereafter.  I  would  not  waste  them  in  idle  talk ; 
or  if  I  must  have  the  integrity  of  fancy  broken  in  upon,  I  would 
rather  it  were  by  a  stranger  than  a  friend.  A  stranger  takes  his  hue 
and  character  from  the  time  and  place ;  he  is  a  part  of  the  furniture 
and  costume  of  an  inn.  If  he  is  a  Quaker,  or  from  the  West  Riding 
of  Yorkshire,  so  much  the  better.  I  do  not  even  try  to  sympathise 
with  him,  and  he  breaks  no  squares.  How  I  love  to  see  the  camps 
of  the  gipsies,  and  to  sigh  my  soul  into  that  sort  of  life !  If  I  express 
this  feeling  to  another,  he  may  qualify  and  spoil  it  with  some  objec- 
tion. I  associate  nothing  with  my  travelling  companion  but  present 
objects  and  passing  events.  In  his  ignorance  of  me  and  my  affairs,  1 
in  a  manner  forget  myself.  But  a  friend  reminds  one  of  other  things, 
rips  up  old  grievances,  and  destroys  the  abstraction  of  the  scene. 
He  comes  in  ungraciously  between  us  and  our  imaginary  character. 
Something  is  dropped  in  the  course  of  conversation  that  gives  a 
hint  of  your  profession  and  pursuits ;  or  from  having  some  one  with 
you  that  knows  the  less  sublime  portions  of  your  history,  it  seems 
that  other  people  do.  You  are  no  longer  a  citizen  of  the  world ; 
but  your  "  unhoused  free  condition  is  put  into  circumspection  and 
confine."  The  incognito  of  an  inn  is  one  of  its  striking  privileges — 
"  lord  of  one's  self,  uncumbered  with  a  name."  Oh !  it  is  great  to 
shake  off  the  trammels  of  the  world  and  of  public  opinion  ;  to  lose 
our  importunate,  tormenting,  everlasting  personal  identity  in  the 
elements  of  nature,  and  become  the  creature  of  the  moment,  clea"r 
of  all  ties ;  to  hold  to  the  universe  only  by  a  dish  of  sweetbreads 
and  to  owe  nothing  but  the  score  of  the  evening ;  and  no  longer 
seeking  for  applause  and  meeting  with  contempt,  to  be  known  by 
no  other  title  than  the  Gentleman  in  the  parlour !  One  may  take 
one's  choice  of  all  characters  in  this  romantic  state  of  uncertainty 
as  to  one's  real  pretensions,  and  become  indefinitely  respectable 
and  negatively  right-worshipful.  We  baffle  prejudice  and  disappoint 
conjecture ;  and  from  being  so  to  others,  begin  to  be  objects  of 
curiosity  and  wonder  even  to  ourselves.  We  are  no  more  those 
hackneyed  commonplaces  that  we  appear  in  the  world  ;  an  inn  re- 
stores us  to  the  level  of  nature,  and  quits  scores  with  society !  I 
have  certainly  spent  some  enviable  hours  at  inns, — sometimes  when 
I  have  been  left  entirely  to  myself,  and  have  tried  to  solve  some 
metaphysical  problem,  as  once  at  Witham  Common,  where  I  found 
out  the  proof  that  likeness  is  not  a  case  of  the  association  of  ideas, 
— at  other  times,  when  there  have  been  pictures  in  the  room,  as  at 
St.  Neot's  (I  think  it  was),  where  I  first  met  with  Gribelin's  engrav- 


ON  GOING  A  JOURNEY.  237 

ings  of  the  Cartoons,  into  which  I  entered  at  once,  and  at  a  little 
inn  on  the  borders  of  Wales,  where  there  happened  to  be  hanging 
some  of  Westall's  drawings,  which  I  compared  triumphantly  (for  a 
theory  that  I  had,  not  for  the  admired  artist)  with  the  figure  of  a 
girl  who  had  ferried  me  over  the  Severn,  standing  up  in  a  boat  be- 
tween me  and  the  twilight, — at  other  times  I  might  mention  luxuri- 
ating in  books,  with  a  peculiar  interest  in  this  way,  as  I  remember 
sitting  up  half  the  night  to  read  "  Paul  and  Virginia,"  which  I 
picked  up  at  an  inn  at  Bridgewater,  after  being  drenched  in  the 
rain  all  day ;  and  at  the  same  place  I  got  through  two  volumes  of 
Madame  D'Arblay's  "Camilla."  It  was  on  the  loth  of  April  1798 
that  I  sat  down  to  a  volume  of  the  "  New  Eloise,"  at  the  inn  at 
Llangollen,  over  a  bottle  of  sherry  and  a  cold  chicken.  The  letter  I 
chose  was  that  in  which  St.  Preux  describes  his  feelings  as  he  first 
caught  a  glimpse  from  the  heights  of  the  Jura  of  the  Pays  de  Vaud, 
which  I  had  brought  with  me  as  a  bon  louche  to  crown  the  evening 
with.  It  was  my  birthday,  and  I  had  for  the  first  time  come  from 
a  place  in  the  neighbourhood  to  visit  this  delightful  spot.  The  road 
to  Llangollen  turns  off  between  Chirk  and  Wrexham ;  and  on  pass- 
ing a  certain  point  you  come  all  at  once  upon  the  valley,  which 
opens  like  an  amphitheatre,  broad,  barren  hills  rising  in  majestic 
state  on  either  side,  with  "  green  upland  swells  that  echo  to  the 
bleat  of  flocks  "  below,  and  the  river  Dee  babbling  over  its  stony  bed 
in  the  midst  of  them.  The  valley  at  this  time  "  glittered  green  with 
sunny  showers,"  and  a  budding  ash-tree  dipped  its  tender  branches 
in  the  chiding  stream.  How  proud,  how  glad  I  was  to  walk  along 
the  highroad  that  overlooks  the  delicious  prospect,  repeating  the 
lines  which  I  have  just  quoted  from  Mr.  Coleridge's  poems !  But 
besides  the  prospect  which  opened  beneath  my  feet,  another  also 
opened  to  my  inward  sight,  a  heavenly  vision,  on  which  were  written, 
in  letters  large  as  Hope  could  make  them,  these  four  words,  LIBERTY, 
GENIUS,  LOVE,  VIRTUE,  which  have  since  faded  into  the  light  of 
common  day,  or  mock  my  idle  gaze. 

"  The  beautiful  is  vanished,  and  returns  not." 

Still,  I  would  return  some  time  or  other  to  this  enchanted  spot ; 
but  I  would  return  to  it  alone.  What  other  self  could  I  find  to 
share  that  influx  of  thoughts,  of  regret,  and  delight,  the  fragments 
of  which  I  could  hardly  conjure  up  to  myself,  so  much  have  they  been 
broken  and  defaced  ?  I  could  stand  on  some  tall  rock,  and  overlook 
the  precipice  of  years  that  separates  me  from  what  I  then  was.  I 
was  at  that  time  going  shortly  to  visit  the  poet  whom  I  have  above 
named.  Where  is  he  now  ?  Not  only  I  myself  have  changed ;  the 


238         WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

world,  which  was  then  new  to  me,  has  become  old  and  incorrigible. 
Yet  will  I  turn  to  thee  in  thought,  O  sylvan  Dee,  in  joy,  in  youth 
and  gladness,  as  thou  then  wert ;  and  thou  shalt  always  be  to  me 
the  river  of  Paradise,  where  I  will  drink  of  the  waters  of  life  freely ! 
There  is  hardly  anything  that  shows  the  short-sightedness  or 
capriciousness  of  the  imagination  more  than  travelling  does.  With 
change  of  place  we  change  our  ideas ;  nay,  our  opinions  and  feelings. 
We  can  by  an  effort,  indeed,  transport  ourselves  to  old  and  long- 
forgotten  scenes,  and  then  the  picture  of  the  mind  revives  again ; 
but  we  forget  those  that  we  have  just  left.  It  seems  that  we  can 
think  but  of  one  place  at  a  time.  The  canvas  of  the  fancy  is  but  of 
a  certain  extent,  and  if  we  paint  one  set  of  objects  upon  it,  they 
immediately  efface  every  other.  We  cannot  enlarge  our  conceptions ; 
we  only  shift  our  point  of  view.  The  landscape  bares  its  bosom  to 
the  enraptured  eye ;  we  take  our  fill  of  it,  arid  seem  as  if  we  could 
form  no  other  image  of  beauty  or  grandeur.  We  pass  on,  and  think 
no  more  of  it :  the  horizon  that  shuts  it  from  our  sight  also  blots 
it  from  our  memory  like  a  dream.  In  travelling  through  a  wild 
barren  country,  I  can  form  no  idea  of  a  woody  and  cultivated  one. 
It  appears  to  me  that  all  the  world  must  be  barren,  like  what  I  see 
of  it.  In  the  country  we  forget  the  town,  and  in  town  we  despise 
the  country.  "  Beyond  Hyde  Park,"  says  Sir  Topling  Flutter,  "  all 
is  a  desert."  All  that  part  of  the  map  that  we  do  not  see  before  us 
is  blank.  The  world  in  our  conceit  of  it  is  not  much  bigger  than  a 
nutshell.  It  is  not  one  prospect  expanded  into  another,  county 
joined  to  county,  kingdom  to  kingdom,  land  to  seas,  making  an 
image  voluminous  and  vast ; — the  mind  can  form  no  larger  idea  of 
space  than  the  eye  can  take  in  at  a  single  glance.  The  rest  is  a 
name  written  in  a  map,  a  calculation  of  arithmetic.  For  instance, 
what  is  the  true  signification  of  that  immense  mass  of  territory  and 
population  known  by  the  name  of  China  to  us  ?  An  inch  of  paste- 
board on  a  wooden  globe,  of  no  more  account  than  a  China  orange ! 
Things  near  us  are  seen  of  the  size  of  life :  things  at  a  distance 
are  diminished  to  the  size  of  the  understanding.  We  measure  the 
universe  by  ourselves,  and  even  comprehend  the  texture  of  our 
own  being  only  piecemeal.  In  this  way,  however,  we  remember  an 
infinity  of  things  and  places.  The  mind  is  like  a  mechanical  instru- 
ment that  plays  a  great  variety  of  tunes,  but  it  must  play  them 
in  succession.  One  idea  recalls  another,  but  it  at  the  same  time 
excludes  all  others.  In  trying  to  renew  old  recollections,  we  cannot 
as  it  were  unfold  the  whole  web  of  our  existence ;  we  must  pick  out 
the  single  threads.  So  in  coming  to  a  place  where  we  have  formerly 
lived,  and  with  which  we  have  intimate  associations,  every  one  must 


ON  GOING  A  JOURNEY.  239 

have  found  that  the  feeling  grows  more  vivid  the  nearer  we  approach 
the  spot,  from  the  mere  anticipation  of  the  actual  impression :  we 
remember  circumstances,  feelings,  persons,  faces,  names  that  we  had 
not  thought  of  for  years ;  but  for  the  time  all  the  rest  of  the  world 
is  forgotten  ! — To  return  to  the  question  I  have  quitted  above  : — 

I  have  no  objection  to  go  to  see  ruins,  aqueducts,  pictures,  in 
company  with  a  friend  or  a  party,  but  rather  the  contrary,  for  the 
former  reason  reversed.  They  are  intelligible  matters,  and  will 
bear  talking  about.  The  sentiment  here  is  not  tacit,  but  com- 
municable and  overt.  Salisbury  Plain  is  barren  of  criticism,  but 
Stonehenge  will  bear  a  discussion  antiquarian,  picturesque,  and 
philosophical.  In  setting  out  on  a  party  of  pleasure,  the  first 
consideration  always  is  where  we  shall  go  to :  in  taking  a  solitary 
ramble,  the  question  is  what  we  shall  meet  with  by  the  way.  "  The 
mind  is  its  own  place  ;  "  nor  are  we  anxious  to  arrive  at  the  end 
of  our  journey.  I  can  myself  do  the  honours  indifferently  well  to 
works  of  art  and  curiosity.  I  once  took  a  party  to  Oxford  with  no 
mean  tclat — showed  them  that  seat  of  the  Muses  at  a  distance, 

"  With  glistering  spires  and  pinnacles  adorn'd  ; " 

descanted  on  the  learned  air  that  breathes  from  the  grassy  quad- 
rangles and  stone  walls  of  halls  and  colleges ;  was  at  home  in  the 
Bodleian ;  and  at  Blenheim  quite  superseded  the  powdered  cicerone 
that  attended  us,  and  that  pointed  in  vain  with  his  wand  to  com- 
monplace beauties  in  matchless  pictures.  As  another  exception  to 
the  above  reasoning,  I  should  not  feel  confident  in  venturing  on 
a  journey  in  a  foreign  country  without  a  companion.  I  should 
want  at  intervals  to  hear  the  sound  of  my  own  language.  There 
is  an  involuntary  antipathy  in  the  mind  of  an  Englishman  to 
foreign  manners  and  notions  that  requires  the  assistance  of  social 
sympathy  to  carry  it  off.  As  the  distance  from  home  increases, 
this  relief,  which  was  at  first  a  luxury,  becomes  a  passion  and  an 
appetite.  A  person  would  almost  feel  stifled  to  find  himself  in  the 
deserts  of  Arabia  without  friends  and  countrymen :  there  must  be 
allowed  to  be  something  in  the  view  of  Athens  or  old  Rome  that 
claims  the  utterance  of  speech ;  and  I  own  that  the  Pyramids  are 
too  mighty  for  any  single  contemplation.  In  such  situations,  so 
opposite  to  all  one's  ordinary  train  of  ideas,  one  seems  a  species  by 
one's  self,  a  limb  torn  off  from  society,  unless  one  can  meet  with 
instant  fellowship  and  support.  Yet  I  did  not  feel  this  want  or 
craving  very  pressing  once,  when  I  first  set  my  foot  on  the  laughing 
shores  of  France.  Calais  was  peopled  with  novelty  and  delight. 
The  confused,  busy  murmur  of  the  place  was  like  oil  and  wine 


240        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

poured  into  my  ears ;  nor  did  the  mariners'  hymn,  which  was  sung 
from  the  top  of  an  old  crazy  vessel  in  the  harbour,  as  the  sun  went 
down,  send  an  alien  sound  into  my  soul.  I  only  breathed  the  air 
of  general  humanity.  I  walked  over  "the  vine-covered  hills  and 
gay  regions  of  France,"  erect  and  satisfied ;  for  the  image  of  man 
was  not  cast  down  and  chained  to  the  foot  of  arbitrary  thrones : 
I  was  at  no  loss  for  language,  for  that  of  all  the  great  schools  of 
painting  was  open  to  me.  The  whole  is  vanished  like  a  shade. 
Pictures,  heroes,  glory,  freedom,  all  are  fled ;  nothing  remains  but 
the  Bourbons  and  the  French  people! — There  is  undoubtedly  a 
sensation  in  travelling  into  foreign  parts  that  is  to  be  had  nowhere 
else ;  but  it  is  more  pleasing  at  the  time  than  lasting.  It  is  too 
remote  from  our  habitual  associations  to  be  a  common  topic  of 
discourse  or  reference,  and,  like  a  dream  or  another  state  of  exist- 
ence, does  not  piece  into  our  daily  modes  of  life.  It  is  an  animated 
but  a  momentary  hallucination.  It  demands  an  effort  to  exchange 
our  actual  for  our  ideal  identity ;  and  to  feel  the  pulse  of  our  old 
transports  revive  very  keenly,  we  must  "jump"  all  our  present 
comforts  and  connections.  Our  romantic  and  itinerant  character 
is  not  to  be  domesticated.  Dr.  Johnson  remarked  how  little  foreign 
travel  added  to  the  facilities  of  conversation  in  those  who  had  been 
abroad.  In  fact,  the  time  we  have  spent  there  is  both  delightful 
and,  in  one  sense,  instructive ;  but  it  appears  to  be  cut  out  of  our 
substantial,  downright  existence,  and  never  to  join  kindly  on  to 
it.  We  are  not  the  same,  but  another,  and  perhaps  more  enviable, 
individual  all  the  tune  we  are  out  of  our  own  country.  We  are 
lost  to  ourselves  as  well  as  our  friends.  So  the  poet  somewhat 
quaintly  sings : 

"  Out  of  my  country  and  myself  I  go." 

Those  who  wish  to  forget  painful  thoughts  do  well  to  absent  them- 
selves for  a  while  from  the  ties  and  objects  that  recall  them :  but 
we  can  be  said  only  to  fulfil  our  destiny  in  the  place  that  gave  us 
birth.  I  should  on  this  account  like  well  enough  to  spend  the 
whole  of  my  life  in  travelling  abroad,  if  I  could  anywhere  borrow 
another  lif e  to  spend  afterwards  at  home  ! 


ON  COFFEE-HOUSE  POLITICIANS. 

...  I  LIKE  very  well  to  sit  in  a  room  where  there  are  people 
talking  on  subjects  I  know  nothing  of,  if  I  am  only  allowed  to  sit 
silent  and  as  a  spectator;  but  I  do  not  much  like  to  join  in  the 


COFFEE-HOUSE  POLITICIANS.  241 

conversation,  except  with  people  and  on  subjects  to  my  taste. 
Sympathy  is  necessary  to  society.  To  look  on  a  variety  of  faces, 
humours,  and  opinions  is  sufficient :  to  mix  with  others,  agreement 
as  well  as  variety  is  indispensable.  What  makes  good  society  ?  I 
answer,  in  one  word,  real  fellowship.  Without  a  similitude  of  tastes, 
acquirements,  and  pursuits  (whatever  may  be  the  difference  of 
tempers  and  characters)  there  can  be  no  intimacy  or  even  casual 
intercourse  worth  the  having.  What  makes  the  most  agreeable 
party  ?  A  number  of  people  with  a  number  of  ideas  in  common, 
"  yet  so  as  with  a  difference ;  "  that  is,  who  can  put  one  or  more 
subjects  which  they  have  all  studied  in  the  greatest  variety  of  enter- 
taining or  useful  lights.  Or  in  other  words,  a  succession  of  good 
things  said  with  good  humour,  and  addressed  to  the  understand- 
ings of  those  who  hear  them,  make  the  most  desirable  conversation. 
Ladies,  lovers,  beaux,  wits,  philosophers,  the  fashionable  or  the 
vulgar,  are  the  fittest  company  for  one  another.  The  discourse  at 
Randal's  is  the  best  for  boxers ;  that  at  Long's  for  lords  and  loungers. 
I  prefer  Hunt's  conversation  almost  to  any  other  person's,  because, 
with  a  familiar  range  of  subjects,  he  colours  with  a  totally  new  and 
sparkling  light,  reflected  from  his  own  character.  Elia,  the  grave 
and  witty,  says  things  not  to  be  surpassed  in  essence;  but  the 
manner  is  more  painful  and  less  a  relief  to  my  own  thoughts.  Some 
one  conceived  he  could  not  be  an  excellent  companion  because  he 
was  seen  walking  down  the  side  of  the  Thames,  passibus  iniquis,  after 
dining  at  Richmond.  The  objection  was  not  valid.  I  will,  however, 
admit  that  the  said  Elia  is  the  worst  company  in  the  world  in  bad 
company,  if  it  be  granted  me  that  in  good  company  he  is  nearly 
the  best  that  can  be.  He  is  one  of  those  of  whom  it  may  be  said, 
Tell  me  your  company,  and  Fll  tell  you  your  manners.  He  is  the 
creature  of  sympathy,  and  makes  good  whatever  opinion  you  seem 
to  entertain  of  him.  He  cannot  outgo  the  apprehensions  of  the 
circle,  and  invariably  acts  up  or  down  to  the  point  of  refinement  or 
vulgarity  at  which  they  pitch  him.  He  appears  to  take  a  pleasure 
in  exaggerating  the  prejudice  of  strangers  against  him ;  a  pride  in 
confirming  the  prepossessions  of  friends.  In  whatever  scale  of  intel- 
lect he  is  placed,  he  is  as  lively  or  as  stupid  as  the  rest  can  be  for 
their  lives.  If  you  think  him  odd  and  ridiculous,  he  becomes  more 
and  more  so  every  minute,  a  la  folie,  till  he  is  a  wonder  gazed  [at] 
by  all — set  him  against  a  good  wit  and  a  ready  apprehension,  and 
he  brightens  more  and  more — 

"  Or  like  a  gate  of  steel 

Fronting  the  sun,  receives  and  renders  back 
Its  figure  and  its  heat." 


242        WILLIAM  HAZLITT— ESSAYIST  AND  CRITIC. 

We  had  a  pleasant  party  one  evening  at  Procter's.  A  young  literary 
bookseller  who  was  present  went  away  delighted  with  the  elegance 
of  the  repast,  and  spoke  in  raptures  of  a  servant  in  green  livery  and 
a  patent-lamp.  I  thought  myself  that  the  charm  of  the  evening 
consisted  in  some  talk  about  Beaumont  and  Fletcher  and  the  old 
poets,  in  which  every  one  took  part  or  interest,  and  in  a  conscious- 
ness that  we  could  not  pay  our  host  a  better  compliment  than  in 
thus  alluding  to  studies  in  which  he  excelled,  and  in  praising  authors 
whom  he  had  imitated  with  feeling  and  sweetness ! — I  should  think 
it  may  also  be  laid  down  as  a  rule  on  this  subject,  that  to  constitute 
good  company  a  certain  proportion  of  hearers  and  speakers  is  requi- 
site. Coleridge  makes  good  company  for  this  reason.  He  immediately 
establishes  the  principle  of  the  division  of  labour  in  this  respect, 
wherever  he  comes.  He  takes  his  cue  as  speaker,  and  the  rest  of  the 
party  theirs  as  listeners — a  "  Circean  herd  " — without  any  previous 
arrangement  having  been  gone  through.  I  will  just  add  that  there 
can  be  no  good  society  without  perfect  freedom  from  affectation  and 
constraint.  If  the  unreserved  communication  of  feeling  or  opinion 
leads  to  offensive  familiarity,  it  is  not  well ;  but  it  is  no  better  where 
the  absence  of  offensive  remarks  arises  only  from  formality  and  an 
assumed  respectfulness  of  manner. 

I  do  not  think  there  is  anything  deserving  the  name  of  society  to 
be  found  out  of  London :  and  that  for  the  two  following  reasons. 
First,  there  is  neighbourhood  elsewhere,  accidental  or  unavoidable 
acquaintance :  people  are  thrown  together  by  chance  or  grow  together 
like  trees ;  but  you  can  pick  your  society  nowhere  but  in  London. 
The  very  persons  that  of  all  others  you  would  wish  to  associate  with 
in  almost  every  line  of  life  (or  at  least  of  intellectual  pursuit)  are 
to  be  met  with  there.  It  is  hard  if  out  of  a  million  of  people  you 
cannot  find  half-a-dozen  to  your  liking.  Individuals  may  seem  lost 
and  hid  in  the  size  of  the  place ;  but,  in  fact,  from  this  very  cir- 
cumstance you  are  within  two  or  three  miles'  reach  of  persons  that 
without  it  you  would  be  some  hundreds  apart  from.  Secondly, 
London  is  the  only  place  in  which  each  individual  in  company  is 
treated  according  to  his  value  in  company,  and  to  that  only.  In 
every  other  part  of  the  kingdom  he  carries  another  character  about 
with  him,  which  supersedes  the  intellectual  or  social  one.  It  is 
known  in  Manchester  or  Liverpool  what  every  man  in  the  room  is 
worth  in  land  or  money ;  what  are  his  connections  and  prospects  in 
life ;  and  this  gives  a  character  of  servility  or  arrogance,  of  mercena- 
riness,  or  impertinence  to  the  whole  of  provincial  intercourse.  You 
laugh  not  in  proportion  to  a  man's  wit,  but  his  wealth ;  you  have 
to  consider  not  what  but  whom  you  contradict.  You  speak  by  the 


FAMILIAR  STYLE.  243 

pound,  and  are  heard  by  the  rood.  In  the  metropolis  there  is 
neither  time  nor  inclination  for  these  remote  calculations.  Every 
man  depends  on  the  quantity  of  sense,  wit,  or  good  manners  he 
brings  into  society  for  the  reception  he  meets  with  in  it.  A  member 
of  Parliament  soon  finds  his  level  as  a  commoner:  the  merchant 
and  manufacturer  cannot  bring  his  goods  to  market  here :  the  great 
landed  proprietor  shrinks  from  being  the  lord  of  acres  into  a  pleasant 
companion  or  a  dull  fellow.  When  a  visitor  enters  or  leaves  a  room, 
it  is  not  inquired  whether  he  is  rich  or  poor,  whether  he  lives  in  a 
garret  or  a  palace,  or  comes  in  his  own  or  a  hackney-coach,  but 
whether  he  has  a  good  expression  of  countenance,  with  an  unaffected 
manner,  and  whether  he  is  a  man  of  understanding  or  a  blockhead. 
These  are  the  circumstances  by  which  you  make  a  favourable  impres- 
sion on  the  company,  and  by  which  they  estimate  you  in  the  abstract. 
In  the  country,  they  consider  whether  you  have  a  vote  at  the  next 
election  or  a  place  in  your  gift,  and  measure  the  capacity  of  others 
to  instruct  or  entertain  them  by  the  strength  of  their  pockets  and 
their  credit  with  their  banker.  Personal  merit  is  at  a  prodigious 
discount  in  the  provinces.  I  like  the  country  very  well,  if  I  want 
to  enjoy  my  own  company ;  but  London  is  the  only  place  for  equal 
society,  or  where  a  man  can  say  a  good  thing  or  express  an  honest 
opinion  without  subjecting  himself  to  being  insulted,  unless  he  first 
lays  his  purse  on  the  table  to  back  his  pretensions  to  talent  or 
independence  of  spirit.  I  speak  from  experience. 


ON  FAMILIAR  STYLE. 

.  .  .  MR.  LAMB  is  the  only  imitator  of  old  English  style  I  can  read 
with  pleasure ;  and  he  is  so  thoroughly  imbued  with  the  spirit  of  his 
authors,  that  the  idea  of  imitation  is  almost  done  away.  There  is  an 
inward  unction,  a  marrowy  vein  both  in  the  thought  and  feeling,  an 
intuition,  deep  and  lively,  of  his  subject,  that  carries  off  any  quaint- 
ness  or  awkwardness  arising  from  an  antiquated  style  and  dress. 
The  matter  is  complete